What You Need To Know About Bird Flu
Singapore is free from bird flu. However, it is endemic in the region. The Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) cluster under the National Parks Board and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) work closely to remain vigilant and put in place precautionary measures to prevent a bird flu incursion. These measures include source accreditation, import control, routine inspection and surveillance at points of entry, local farms, poultry slaughterhouses, wild birds and pet shops.
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FAQs on Bird Flu
The following FAQs will explain what is bird flu, how it is spread, what NParks/AVS is doing to prevent the disease from coming into Singapore, and what contingency plans are in place if the disease does slip through our tight defences.
About Bird Flu
1. What is Bird Flu?
Avian Influenza (AI), commonly known as “Bird Flu” is caused by infection with avian influenza Type A viruses. Strains are classified as low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), depending on their ability to cause disease in poultry (e.g. chickens). LPAI strains cause minimal to no signs of disease in poultry . HPAI strains on the other hand, can result in severe disease with high mortalities in poultry. In addition, AI viruses may be identified according to “H” and “N” subtypes.
Although AI viruses mainly infect birds, these viruses can sometimes infect people and cause illness, ranging from typical flu-like symptoms to severe respiratory disease leading to death.
It is important to note that bird flu viruses have the ability to mutate and adapt, and sometimes these changes result in the emergence of a novel (new) bird flu virus that could infect and spread between people. To date, all naturally occurring highly pathogenic strains in poultry have been associated with either the H5 or H7 subtype. When transmitted to poultry, LPAI of the H5 or H7 subtype have the potential to mutate to become HPAI or be able to infect other species of animals. For the purposes of early notification and trade, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) defines avian influenza as infection caused by HPAI viruses or LPAI viruses of H5/H7 subtypes.
2. What animals can be affected by bird flu?
Many species of waterfowl, especially wild geese, ducks and swans, carry the bird flu virus naturally in their intestines and respiratory tract without showing clinical signs. Chickens are very susceptible to bird flu, which can cause them to be very sick and kill them.
LPAI usually causes little to mild illness in poultry and other birds. Clinical symptoms can be exacerbated by other factors such as concurrent illness. Signs include lack of energy and appetite, decreased or abnormal egg production and respiratory signs. Some infected poultry may not show any clinical signs.
3. How is bird flu spread between birds?
The virus is contagious and can be spread to susceptible birds through:
- Direct contact with nasal and respiratory secretions from infected birds
- Direct contact with the faeces of infected birds
- Contamination of feed and water
- Contact with contaminated equipment and humans
4. What are the signs that infected poultry will show?
There is a wide variation in clinical signs among strains of AI viruses. HPAI usually causes severe illness in chickens and turkeys, and few birds in infected flocks survive. Infected poultry can show signs such as:
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, combs, wattles and legs
- Purple discolouration of the wattles and combs
- Nasal discharge
- Coughing and sneezing
Public Health Risks
1. Can bird flu be transmitted from poultry to humans?
Though it is rare for people to get infected with bird flu viruses, the most frequently identified subtypes of avian influenza that have caused human infections are H5, H7 and H9 viruses.
Bird flu can be transmitted through direct or close contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by secretions or excretions from infected birds.
To date, there is no evidence to suggest that people have been infected with bird flu virus through the consumption of properly cooked poultry or eggs.
2. What are the signs and symptoms of bird flu infection in humans?
Signs and symptoms of bird flu infection in humans are similar to those of regular human flu. They can include high fever (usually over 38 degrees Celsius), cough, sore throat, runny nose, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. Complications such as pneumonia, respiratory distress, and death can occur.
Persons who have recently visited countries with bird flu and had close interactions with poultry or wild birds overseas, should seek medical advice from a doctor if they develop the above signs and symptoms.
3. Can bird flu be transmitted from human to human?
Human-to-human transmission is very rare. To date, there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission reported.
Consumption of Poultry and Poultry Products
1. Is it safe to eat poultry and eggs?
Yes, the poultry and eggs available in the market are safe to eat.
To guard against the risk of incursion of bird flu, AVS requires countries exporting poultry, poultry products and eggs to Singapore to be free from HPAI and H5/H7 LPAI. AVS and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) work closely to ensure that these requirements are met. All imported poultry, poultry products and eggs, must come from sources accredited by SFA. As part of accreditation, countries are assessed to ensure that the country has control measures in place to ensure that the exported poultry, poultry products and eggs are free of bird flu. In addition, AVS monitors outbreaks of bird flu worldwide and takes measures to suspend sources that have outbreaks of bird flu.
At the same time, to ensure food supply resilience, AVS also adopts measures in line with international standards to limit the impact of bird flu on our food sources. For example, where importing countries have demonstrated that they have a robust system in place to contain bird flu outbreaks and prevent the spread to other parts of the country, we limit the suspension to the region affected by AI. Another risk mitigation measure is heat treatment of products that inactivates the AI virus.
2. Is it safe to consume canned poultry products and chicken essence?
It is safe to consume canned poultry products and chicken essence. All canned products undergo a heat treatment process that effectively destroys any viruses.
3. Is it safe to handle raw poultry?
Yes, it is safe to handle raw poultry from sources that have been accredited by SFA and allowed to be imported into Singapore. However, you should practise general food safety measures such as separating raw from cooked food to avoid cross contamination, which can cause food poisoning.
4. Are there guidelines to cooking poultry?
Consumers are advised to cook poultry meat thoroughly, practise good food hygiene and keep raw meat and other foods separate. Also, thorough cooking helps to kill any harmful germs present. The eating of any raw or semi-cooked food, including eggs, comes with an inherent food safety risk.
5. What precautions should be taken when working with poultry?
To minimise public health risks, people working in close contact with poultry are advised to observe good personal hygiene and take necessary precautions when handling poultry.
The use of gloves when handling poultry and washing of hands after handling poultry are highly recommended. Other appropriate personal protective equipment includes N95 masks, disposable gowns, shoe covers, and goggles, which adequately protect workers from potential exposure.
Pet Poultry and Other Pet Birds
1. I/My neighbour/My school owns some pet poultry. Is it safe to continue keeping the poultry? Will these pet poultry pose a risk to the public?
Given Singapore's current bird flu free status, and the various disease prevention measures and conditions already put in place, pet poultry kept in Singapore currently do not pose a risk to the general population.
Bird flu can be spread by wild migratory birds. Owners should ensure that their pet birds are kept within bird-proof cages or enclosures with:
- A fine wire mesh netting to prevent contact with any bird, poultry or animal from outside the enclosure, and
- A proper roof to prevent any droppings, waste, feathers and other particles from any bird, poultry or animal from entering the bird-proof cage or enclosure.
Also, owners should not introduce birds of unknown origin to their existing pet birds.
Anyone who handles pet birds should also practise good hygiene, such as washing hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling their pets.
Owners should also engage a veterinarian for assistance, should any birds start showing signs of sickness and/or if they have concerns regarding the health of the birds.
No more than 10 poultry (including chickens) are allowed to be kept in any premises. On top of this, owners are also subjected to rules of the managing body of the premises, which may or may not allow the keeping of poultry within their managed areas.
2. How does AVS ensure that the ornamental/pet birds that are imported into Singapore are free from bird flu?
Ornamental birds are allowed to be imported into Singapore only from sources free of bird flu. The birds are also subject to pre-export quarantine and testing for bird flu to ensure that they are free from bird flu before they are exported to Singapore. In addition, AVS follows up with further checks when the consignments arrive in Singapore.
3. What should I do if my pet bird falls sick or dies?
If your pet bird is sick, bring it to the veterinarian. If you have more than one bird, separate the healthy birds from the sick birds if possible. The birds should be kept in enclosures that are not adjacent to each other. As a general precaution, adopt hygiene practices such as washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the birds and the cage.
When handling dead pet birds, the following steps must be observed:
- Put on a mask and a pair of gloves
- Place the bodies in a plastic bag tightly sealed with a rubber band or cable tie
- Dispose the plastic bag containing the bodies together with your garbage
- Disinfect the bird cage and wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the dead bird
4. What should I do if I don't want to keep my birds anymore?
It is against the law to abandon animals. You should rehome them.
Visits to Nature Reserves, Bird Park, Zoo, etc
1. Bird flu is usually spread by migratory birds. Is it safe to go to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve or other parks and reservoirs?
Singapore is free from bird flu. It is safe to visit Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and other parks and reservoirs, as it is unlikely that visitors would catch avian flu from wild birds.
Human infections have mostly occurred after close contact with infected poultry.
In addition, there is an on-going surveillance programme for bird flu in wild birds at Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve where swabs are collected regularly from wild birds for testing.
2. Is it safe to visit the Bird Park and the Zoo?
Singapore is free from bird flu. It is safe to visit the Bird Park and Zoo. AVS works closely with the Bird Park and Zoo on surveillance to prevent the introduction of bird flu.
Actions Taken by AVS and SFA
1. What is AVS doing to prevent the introduction of bird flu into Singapore?
AVS has in place measures to prevent the incursion of bird flu. Preventative measures include banning the import of live birds, poultry and poultry products from countries or regions affected by bird flu, as well as inspection and sampling at points of entry, local poultry slaughterhouses and poultry farms. Farms and slaughterhouses are also required to ensure that biosecurity measures are in place, and the public is not allowed to visit these establishments. AVS and SFA work closely to ensure that these measures are implemented in the local farms and slaughterhouses. Additionally, AVS regularly inspects pet shops that sell birds to ensure they are free from bird flu. NParks also conducts regular checks and surveillance on migratory birds as well as common birds such as crows, mynahs and pigeons.
2. What happens if cases of bird flu are discovered in our poultry farms?
AVS has a contingency plan to deal with an outbreak of bird flu in Singapore. In the event of an outbreak of HPAI or H5/H7 LPAI in any of our poultry farms, AVS and SFA will take immediate action to control and eradicate the disease, in line with international practice.
All poultry in affected farms will be humanely culled and safely disposed of. Surveillance and monitoring will also be carried out in the other unaffected farms to ensure that they are free from bird flu.
In the event of detection of LPAI (non-H5/H7 subtypes) in local poultry farms, further investigation and tracing of potentially infected or exposed poultry will be conducted to determine the spread of infection. Additional biosecurity measures will be implemented to prevent the spread of infection.
1. Will crows and other common birds in Singapore such as pigeons and mynahs pose a threat to us?
AVS regularly screens crows, mynahs and pigeons for the bird flu virus. So far, no bird flu has been detected. Some birds, such as pigeons, have been shown to be less susceptible to being infected with the bird flu virus.
2. What should I do if I come across dead birds in public places?
You can contact the National Environment Agency at 1800-225 5632 for assistance to remove the bird carcasses found in public areas. For those carcasses that are found within the HDB estates, you can contact the respective Town Council managing the estate to remove the carcasses.
3. Can my pet cat/dog contract bird flu?
Singapore is free from HPAI and H5/H7 LPAI. Dogs and cats are usually not susceptible to bird flu viruses.
4. Is it dangerous for me to come into contact with free-roaming chickens around my estate?
Singapore is currently free from HPAI and H5/H7 LPAI. As a precaution, members of the public should not touch or feed free-roaming chickens.
In the event that you come into contact with free-roaming chickens, you should practise good hygiene habits and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Suggested resources for more information on bird flu