The government has announced new measures to curb the spread of bird flu but how big is the risk to humans?

All keepers will now be legally required to keep their birds and poultry housed or kept separate from wild birds.

The move comes after a number of confirmed bird flu cases in the UK in recent weeks.

Wild birds are currently migrating to the UK from mainland Europe as they do during the winter which has raised concerns over a possible rise in avian influenza.


READ MORE: Bird flu 2021 outbreak: New rules in effect for all of UK

The UK’s four chief veterinary officers released a joint statement, writing: “We have taken swift action to limit the spread of the disease and are now planning to introduce a legal requirement for all poultry and captive bird keepers to keep their birds housed or otherwise separate from wild birds.

“Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from Monday, November  29 onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors, or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds.

“We have not taken this decision lightly, taking this action now is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”

Can humans get bird flu?

The bird flu can affect humans but it depends on the strain of the virus, the NHS has said.

There is a very low risk to human health and food safety risk from avian influenza, according to public health advice.

Most strains aren't actually harmful to people but there are four that have raised concerns in recent years:

  • H5N1 (since 1997)
  • H7N9 (since 2013)
  • H5N6 (since 2014)
  • H5N8 (since 2016)

No humans have been infected with H5N1, H7N9, H5N6 or H5N8 bird flu in the UK which includes the type of H5N6 virus recently found in humans in China. 

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

H5N6 has also been found in some wild birds in the UK but it is important to note that this is a different strain to that seen in China.

Bird flu is spread to humans by:

  • touching infected birds
  • touching droppings or bedding
  • killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking

You also can't catch bird flu by eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even if you're within an outbreak area.

How to prevent yourself from catching bird flu

There are a few things that you can do to prevent yourself from catching bird flu and give you peace of mind:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap, especially before and after handling food, especially raw poultry
  • use different utensils for cooked and raw meat
  • make sure meat is cooked until steaming hot
  • avoid contact with live birds and poultry

Bird Flu Symptoms

The NHS has said that bird flu symptoms can appear fairly quickly, usually within 3 to 5 days after being infected.

The symptoms could include any of the following:

  • a very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath
  • Other early symptoms may include:
  • diarrhoea
  • sickness
  • stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • bleeding from the nose and gums
  • conjunctivitis

The NHS says that it's possible to develop more severe complications including pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

To prevent complications and reduce the risk of developing severe illness, it recommends getting treatment quickly and using antiviral medicine.

For more information and NHS advice about bird flu, visit the NHS website.

You can keep up to date with the latest government guidance on Bird Flu via its website.