Information on Bird Flu
What You Need To Know About Bird Flu
Singapore is free from bird flu. However, it is endemic in the region. Thus, National Parks Board/Animal & Veterinary Service (NParks/AVS) remains vigilant and put in place precautionary measures to prevent a bird flu incursion. These include source accreditation, import control, routine inspection and surveillance at points of entry, local farms, poultry slaughterhouses, wild birds and pet shops.
In light of the outbreaks of bird flu in the region, members of the public may have concerns about the disease.
The following FAQs will explain what bird flu is all about, how it is spread, what NParks/AVS is doing to prevent the disease from coming into Singapore, and what are the contingency plans in place if the disease does slip through our tight defences.
FAQs on Bird Flu
About Bird Flu
1. What is Bird Flu?
Avian Influenza (AI), commonly known as “Bird Flu” is caused by infection with influenza A viruses. Strains are classified as low pathogenic (LPAI) or highly pathogenic (HPAI), depending on their ability to cause disease in poultry. LPAI strains cause minimal to no signs of disease in domestic poultry. HPAI strains on the other hand, can result in severe disease with high mortalities in poultry.
Although bird flu 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.
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. Domesticated chickens are very susceptible to bird flu, which can cause them to be very sick and kill them.
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?
Infected poultry can show signs such as:
• Sudden death
• 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
However, so infected poultry may not show any clinical signs.
Public Health Risks
1. Can bird flu be transmitted from poultry to humans?
Human infections have mostly occurred after exposure to infected poultry. This would include direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their droppings is considered the main route for infection for humans.
The majority of human infections have been caused by H5N1 and H7N9 subtypes.
2. What are the symptoms of humans infected with bird flu?
The reported symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat and muscle aches to eye infections, pneumonia and other complications.
3. Can bird flu be transmitted from human to human?
Currently, bird flu virus does not appear to transmit easily from person to person, and sustained human-to-human transmission has not been 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, NParks/AVS requires countries exporting poultry, poultry products and eggs to Singapore to be free from bird flu. NParks/AVS and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) work closely to ensure that these requirements are met. All imported poultry, poultry products including eggs, must come from sources accredited SFA. As part of accreditation, SFA assesses the countries 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, NParks/AVS monitors the 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, NParks/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. However, you should practice 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 and to eat food that is well-cooked. 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.
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 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 are to 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 practice 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.
Up to 10 poultry (including chickens) are allowed to be kept in private residential premises, and owners are to ensure that the birds are kept within bird-proof cages or enclosures. Poultry (including chickens) are not allowed to be kept in HDB flats.
2. How does NParks/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, NParks/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 could 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 after handling the birds.
When handling dead pet birds, the following steps must be observed:
• Put on a pair of rubber gloves.
• Pull a plastic bag over the gloved hand.
• Pick up the dead bird and unwrap the plastic bag over the carcass.
• Knot the bag up securely and dispose of it together with your garbage.
• Disinfect the bird cage and wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the dead bird.
• Avoid contact with bird droppings and excretion at all times.
• Wash exposed skin and/or clothing with soap and water and household antiseptic or disinfectant immediately after handling the dead bird or if you have come into contact with the droppings and excretions.
4. What should I do if I don't want to keep my birds anymore?
Abandonment of animals is against the law. 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 exposure to 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. NParks/AVS works closely with the Bird Park and Zoo on surveillance to prevent the introduction of bird flu.
Actions Taken by NParks/AVS
1. What is NParks/AVS doing to prevent the introduction of bird flu into Singapore?
NParks/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, biosecurity measures in accredited overseas farms and local farms, 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 public are not allowed to visit these establishments. NParks/AVS and SFA work closely to ensure that these measures are implemented in the local farms and slaughterhouses. Additionally, AVNParks/AVS S regularly inspects pet shops that sell birds to ensure they are free from bird flu. Together with relevant agencies, NParks/AVS 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?
NParks/AVS has a contingency plan to deal an outbreak of bird flu in Singapore. In the event of an outbreak of bird flu in any of our poultry farms, NParks/AVS and SFA will take immediate actions 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.
1. Will crows and other common birds in Singapore such as pigeons and mynahs pose a threat to us?
NParks/AVS regularly screens crows, mynahs and pigeons for bird flu virus. So far, no bird flu has been detected. Some birds, example pigeons, have been shown to be less likely infected by 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 bird flu. 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 bird flu. 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.