Normal Avian Flu is not much of a threat to aviculture. Every now and again most countries experience an outbreak (you had one in California a couple of years ago). Because it is a devastating disease for the poultry industry, drastic control measures are enforced including culling programmes and the suspension of trade (hence sales) of birds.
The H5N1 highly pathogenic strain has killed 60 humans in SE Asia though it is actually very difficult for people to catch it without enormous exposure levels. However, governments are concerned that it will mutate and produce a highly pathogenic strain that will pass from human to human. In fact, any mutation that achieves better human infection rates will probably lower the danger too. However, governments are having to plan for the worst case scenario.
The H5N1 virus moved from SE Asia to Siberia (wild waterfowl) many months ago, and European governments have been concerned that it will come here with this fall’s migration season. When we had an outbreak in Turkey and Romania and a possible one in Greece (since discounted). Then we had a parrot case in UK quarantine which certainly made people very nervous. However, Quarantine worked!
The last week in October had avian flu on the TV news every single night of the week (including the quarantine case). The European Union went into overdrive and banned all bird shows and bird fairs. Fortunately, they allowed national governments some discretion. All countries have banned events where birds are sold. Holland, Belgium, and Portugal shut everything down – sales and shows. Germany allowed discretion to local government vets and most bird shows have progressed normally. Their main budgie show happened a week ago with larger than normal entries and visitor numbers. The German national is still scheduled for 19/20 November.
In Britain, we banned all sales, but competitive shows are going ahead including the nearest thing we have to a National on the first weekend of December. Having said that it only includes budgies, canaries, British birds, Bengalese (society finches) and zebra finches – foreign bird shows are not allowed – no Australian finches I’m afraid. Those with poultry need to apply for a license, but cage bird shows are basically unregulated though they must appoint a bio-security officer and have sensible hygiene practices in place and a contingency plan to deal with any sick birds. This plan should expire at the end of December. The French National has been moved from the first week of December to January to escape the short term measures imposed by their government.
Portugal has also seen the light, and competitive cage bird shows are being reinstated, so their National will go ahead as planned on 8-11 December.
Europe has a full complement of shows in January – DKB (Germany), Dutch National (as far as we know), the moved French National and the world show (also in Holland this year).
The first week in November had just one minor report on the TV news bulletins. It would appear that the migration is just about over and western Europe is still clear, and I think this explains the softening of policy in the last few days.
As for aviculturists and sensible protection methods, there are plenty of things people can do. Firstly I get the feeling that the migration risk from Asia to the USA is fairly small at present. However, ideally birds would be kept indoors, and feeding and watering should be only in areas covered from potential wild bird contamination. Owners should avoid infecting their stock by putting a disinfectant mat or foot bath at the entrance and ensuring everyone visiting uses it. Enviroclens is ideal for that. In the UK it is DEFRA approved (our agriculture ministry), and we are trying to get specifically tested against H5N1 though all the test eggs we get allocated keep getting stolen for testing in possible outbreak zones! If handling birds people should use an alcohol hand scrub.
We strongly recommend bird keepers boost their flock’s immune systems by using Feast, DE3, and CalciBoost and have a pot of Guardian Angel at hand at the first sign of any sick birds.
In summary, the danger to our businesses is all about bird keepers perceptions. When we had an outbreak of a different virus in the UK budgies a few years ago, their shows were shut (by the Budgerigar Society), and their membership dropped 20%. So I see the maintenance of competitive shows as important – in the short term, they are far more important than bird sales. If we see a slow movement of the disease across Europe over the next few years, I think the impact will be small. If it suddenly crops up in an important country in the next few weeks, it could have dire consequences. However, I think this is looking pretty unlikely at the moment.