| 15.1°C Dublin

Is it safe to eat beef and chicken with BSE and bird flu in Ireland?


Can I get 'mad cow disease' or bird flu, after the incidences of BSE and bird flu this week?

BSE, or Bovine spongiform encephalopathy to give it its full title, is a disease of cattle, commonly known as 'mad cow disease' that causes a spongy degeneration of the brain and spinal cord in cattle. It became known as 'mad cow disease' due to the behavioural changes it caused in the affected animals.

When BSE was came onto our radars in the 1980s, beef contaminated with it was linked to the human condition - variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), which is a rare and fatal condition.

There are two types of BSE and 'classical' BSE was first discovered in the 1980s and was linked to the feeding of meat-and-bone meal that was not properly treated to cattle. Since this practise was banned in 1990, the level of incidences of BSE has fallen dramatically in the UK and Ireland.

However, this week's case of BSE in Ireland is of the 'Atypical' variety - is different. Atypical BSE is not caused by feeding contaminated feed to cattle, it is understood to occur spontaneously in nature.

The cow that tested positive this week, tested positive for Atypical BSE and it poses no threat to humans or other animals.

The Department of Agriculture carries out routine tests on animals that die on farms and it was through one of these that the findings were made. It's due to such protocols that the animal came no where near entering the human food chain.

Equally, this week's case of bird flu poses no serious threat to humans. Bird flu is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of several species of domestic poultry, as well as pet birds and wild birds.

Bird flu should not be confused with seasonal human influenza (flu). Humans can catch bird flu, when there is close contact with infected birds or heavily contaminated environments.

And while there is no evidence that even eating a bird or eggs from a bird with bird flu will transmit the virus to humans, all advice is to ensure that poultry meat and eggs are cooked properly.

The precautions currently in place in Ireland are to prevent the spread of the virus to domestic or large flocks of birds. The three cases so far in Ireland have been in wild birds - including the Whooper swan found this week, which is a migratory bird. In essence we don't want migratory birds bringing viruses and diseases and passing them onto bird flocks here.

What do I do if I find a bird that I think has bird flu?

Members of the public are asked to report incidents where multiple wild birds (e.g. 3 or more of same species and 5 or more of multiple species) of species, other than common garden birds or pigeons, are found dead in the same location and at the same time to the DAFM Avian Influenza helpline (Tel: 0761064403) or to your local Regional Veterinary Office.

Bird flu signs

The signs that farmers and members of the public should look out for in birds:

  • Depression/lethargy
  • loss of appetite and excessive thirst
  • swollen head
  • blue discolouration of combs, wattles, neck and throat
  • respiratory distress such as gaping beak, coughing, sneezing, gurgling, rattling
  • diarrhoea
  • reduced/no eggs laid
  • Sudden death.

All avian influenza viruses can be transmitted among birds through direct contact with body fluids from infected birds such as droppings or through contaminated feed, water, equipment, and human clothing. It cannot spread through the air.

Online Editors