Is there a Bird Flu Outbreak in Humans? The Latest UK Advice

July 11, 2023by Jamie Browning0

Bird flu, also known as avian influenza, is a viral infection that primarily affects birds. While rare, there have been instances where bird flu has crossed over to humans, causing concerns about potential outbreaks.

In this article, we will examine the current status of bird flu outbreaks in humans and provide the latest advice from the UK.

Is there a bird flu outbreak in humans?

While rare, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 868 cases of bird flu in humans since 2003, primarily associated with direct contact with infected birds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five subtypes of avian influenza viruses are known to have caused human infections (H5, H6, H7, H9, and H10 viruses).

Types of bird flu that can affect humans

Bird flu viruses belong to the influenza A group and are categorised into two types:

  1. Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI)
  2. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)
Poultry suffering from avian flu

While LPAI strains generally cause mild symptoms, HPAI strains can lead to severe disease and even death.

How is bird flu transmitted to humans?

Bird flu is primarily spread from birds to humans through close contact with an affected bird.

Here are the main routes of transmission:

  • Touching infected birds
  • Touching droppings or bedding
  • Killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

When was the last significant avian bird flu outbreak?

Bird flu outbreaks have occurred throughout history, with notable instances including the H5N1 outbreak in 1997, the H7N9 outbreak in 2013, and the H5N8 outbreak in 2014.

Past outbreaks raised concerns about the potential for a global pandemic, leading to intensified surveillance and preventive measures.

The most recent significant avian bird flu outbreak in the UK was from November 2020 to March 2021. This consisted of two types of virus, H5N8 and H5N1. You can read the full government report on the outbreak here.

Is there a bird flu outbreak in the UK?

Government reports reveal that the UK is facing its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu with 185 confirmed cases of H5N1 since 1 October 2022. During this period, there have been:

  • 155 cases in England
  • 21 cases in Scotland
  • 8 cases in Wales
  • 1 case in Northern Ireland

There have been 288 cases of H5N1 in England since the H5N1 outbreak started in October 2021. These cases primarily involve birds, including wild birds and domestic poultry and there have been no confirmed human cases in the UK.

The UK government, along with relevant authorities, is closely monitoring the situation and implementing necessary measures to prevent further spread.

Bird flu restrictions

Great Britain remains in an avian influenza prevention zone (AIPZ) and the UK government has implemented various bird flu restrictions.

Here are some of the main restrictions in place to prevent the spread of bird flu:

  • Register your birds: If you have 50 or more poultry or game birds you must register your birds within one month after they arrive at your premises.
  • Keep your birds away from wild birds: Ducks and geese must be kept in a separate pen or building away from other birds.
  • Maintain bird houses: Keep your birds’ housing clean at all times using an approved disinfectant.
  • Limit access to your birds: Keep a record of all people that visit and leave your birds’ housing
Dead chickens which have died from avian influenza in farm.

You can read the full list of bird flu restrictions and guidance by visiting GOV.UK.

How is Scotland responding to bird flu restrictions?

Scotland is also in an AIPZ which means bird keepers must follow strict biosecurity rules to prevent bird flu and stop it spreading. All poultry gatherings have been banned to help prevent the spread of the disease in Scotland.

Are we experiencing a bird flu pandemic in 2023?

The number of cases of HPAI H5N1 in both kept and wild birds has been falling since the end of 2022. However, the risk is still classified as high which means that bird keepers must follow strict biosecurity rules to prevent bird flu and stop it from spreading.

How is the UK responding to an AI (avian influenza) outbreak?

An AI outbreak occurs when the virus spreads among wild or domestic bird populations.

The UK, like many other countries, is susceptible to AI outbreaks due to its diverse bird populations and the presence of migratory birds that can carry the virus. Therefore, it is crucial to have effective measures in place to control and mitigate the spread of bird flu.

AI outbreak control measures

The UK government takes AI outbreaks seriously and has established a robust framework to respond to such situations.

Through surveillance, movement restrictions, enhanced biosecurity, culling, and public awareness campaigns, the government aims to control the spread of bird flu, protecting both animal and human health.

How can I protect myself during an avian bird flu outbreak?

It is crucial for the general public to be well-informed about the symptoms of bird flu and take prompt action in the event of an outbreak.

Common symptoms of the bird flu virus include:

  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water. This is especially important before and after handling raw poultry.
  • Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.
  • Using separate utensils for cooked and raw meat, and ensuring that meat is cooked thoroughly before consumption.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Following an effective cleaning schedule and sanitising hard surfaces regularly with a quality disinfectant like Byotrol 4-in-1 multi-purpose cleaner.
  • Avoiding close proximity to wild birds and their nests or droppings.
  • Refraining from visiting live animal markets or poultry farms.

If you experience any of these symptoms and have recently visited an area affected by bird flu, the NHS recommends using NHS 111 online ( or calling NHS 111 for further guidance.

A signpost advising of an Avian Flu infection zone, Chelsworth, Suffolk, England, UK November 2022

Final thoughts

The UK is currently grappling with its largest-ever outbreak of bird flu since late October 2021, prompting the government to implement several restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Although bird flu rarely affects humans, it can potentially lead to severe health complications. Therefore, it is crucial for the general public to remain vigilant and adopt preventive measures to safeguard themselves and others.

If you are worried that you’re experiencing symptoms of bird flu, it’s advisable to contact healthcare professionals immediately for guidance and assistance.

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At Ultima, we offer professional disease control services for Avian Flu, Norovirus, Covid-19. Our biohazard cleaners have more than 20 years of experience and will ensure that infectious pathogens are eliminated quickly, effectively, and discretely.

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