Shaftesbury Lake bird flu outbreak: What is it and can my pets get it?

Shaftesbury Lake might be the site of a bird flu outbreak - here are answers to some questions people might have
Shaftesbury Lake might be the site of a bird flu outbreak - here are answers to some questions people might have

With bird flu confirmed at Shaftesbury Lake and several birds dying, many locals will be concerned about what that means for them.

DEFRA has been to the lake and has taken samples, and rangers from Swindon Borough Council have removed the remains of at least 10 deceased animals, including swans and Canadian geese.

READ MORE: Shaftesbury Lake: Bird flu confirmed at Swindon beauty spot

Signs have been put up around the area popular with dog walkers warning of a suspected outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, encouraging people to stick to the footpath and to keep dogs on leads.

People have also been asked not to feed any of the birds, and especially not to touch any birds alive or dead.

A dead bird being fished from Shaftesbury Lake

What is bird flu?

Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds. In rare cases, it can affect humans.

Plans are in place to manage any suspected cases of bird flu in the UK.

The H5N8 and H5N1 strains of bird flu have been found in some poultry, other captive birds and wild birds in the UK.

H5N6 has also been found in some wild birds in the UK, but this is a different strain to the H5N6 virus that has infected some people in China.

How is bird flu spread?

Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive).

This includes:

  • touching infected birds

  • touching droppings or bedding

  • killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

You can't catch bird flu by eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas with an outbreak of bird flu.

Some strains of bird flu can pass from birds to humans, but this is extremely rare. Human-to-human transmission is also very rare.

Things you can do to prevent contracting bird flu

Generally, you should wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after handling food, in particular raw poultry, or going outside.

You should also be sure to disinfect any footwear or clothes, especially if you have been near somewhere where there's a suspected outbreak.

Avoid contact with live birds and poultry, and should not touch them or their droppings, the same applies if they are sick or dead.

A poster from Swindon Borough Council warning of bird flu

Can my pet get bird flu?

Incidents of pets contracting the illness are extremely rare, but it can cross into other species.

In the event of an outbreak pet owners in the immediate area might be asked to walk their dogs on a lead, which is the case at Shaftesbury Lake, and to keep their cats indoors.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: "As some dogs may be attracted to – and pick up – dead or dying birds, the RSPCA always recommends keeping dogs under control around wildlife. Although the risk of your dog contracting bird flu is extremely low, your dog could become contaminated and spread it to other areas.

"Also dead and dying birds could carry a range of other diseases which might present a health risk to your dog."

The picture in the UK 

The UK is currently experiencing its worst bird flu outbreak in history.

161 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been detected in poultry and captive birds so far this year, leading to the culling of 3.2m birds.

That compared to the previous record of 26 cases in 2020/21.

There have also been 1,727 cases of avian flu in the UK's wild bird population, in 406 locations involving 59 bird species.

What next for Shaftesbury Lake?

DEFRA has confirmed the presence of bird flu at Shaftesbury Lake so the remaining bird population will need to be monitored.