Animal Diseases

Department of Agriculture Fisheries, Food and the Marine has contingency plans in place to deal with outbreaks of serious animal diseases, including Foot and Mouth Disease, Avian Influenza (Bird Flu), Newcastle Disease, Classical Swine Fever, and Bluetongue.

Foot and Mouth disease is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral disease of cattle and pigs. It can also affect other animals with cloven hooves such as goats, deer and sheep.

The rapid spread of the virus and its subsequent ability to damage the livestock industry is the reason immediate action is taken if the disease is discovered anywhere. During a major outbreak in Britain and Northern Ireland in 2001, the virus spread into County Louth. However, strict Irish Government policies on the movement of livestock and the cancellation of some large events ensured that the outbreak was contained and did not spread any further into the Republic.

Avian Influenza or Bird Flu is a disease affecting birds and some mammals. All evidence to date indicates that the virus does not spread easily from birds to humans. Most human cases have been related to direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces. Typically they have occurred in rural areas or areas where many households keep small poultry flocks. In such instances it has been found that the poultry flocks often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play.

It is important to remember that cooking destroys the virus in eggs and poultry, so both are perfectly safe to eat once cooked.

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious viral disease of birds to which chickens are highly susceptible. The severity of the disease depends on which particular strain of the virus (of which there are many) has caused the disease. It is endemic in some parts of the world where disease outbreaks are not prevented or controlled by vaccination. The virus could be introduced into Ireland by migratory birds, racing pigeons or trade in pet birds or poultry and their products. Although Newcastle disease outbreaks have occurred in Ireland in the past, controls on trade, vaccination, and good bio-security practices are in place to keep infection out of our commercial flocks.

Classical Swine Fever is a viral disease of pigs that can range in severity from acute to chronic and can result in death, reproductive failure, wasting, recurrent illness or congenital infection. It has serious implications for farmers in that the virus can be spread through direct animal contact, contaminated materials, or from infected sows to their piglets. The only way to eliminate the disease is to destroy all infected animals and their products. The virus can also survive in poorly cooked meat or in some cured products. Department of Agriculture Fisheries, Food and the Marine has a contingency plan in place for protecting the national pig herd.

Bluetongue is a viral disease of ruminants including sheep, cattle, deer and goats. It is transmitted mostly by the bites of Culicoides midges that are prevalent throughout most of Europe in various habitats including farms. It is not spread through direct contact between animals and it is not shed into the environment to contaminate housing, equipment, footwear or clothing. Neither is it carried in milk or meat and it does not infect people. It can have an enormous impact on trade in live animals as very large areas are restricted as part of the control measures. The disease appeared in northern Europe for the first time in autumn 2006 and has never occurred in Ireland. However, with global warming, it is now possible that this could happen. The Department of Agriculture and Food has developed a contingency plan to deal with a disease outbreak should it occur.

In the event of avian flu, foot and mouth or other serious animal disease occurring, the public will be told the nature and scale of the problem and will be kept fully informed as the situation develops.

You will find more detailed information and advice, including contingency measures, travel advice, handling of dead birds, guidelines for keepers of poultry and birds, etc. on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine website at: www.agriculture.gov.ie.

The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are responsible for the public health aspects of the virus. Information on the risk to human health can be found on their websites at: www.health.gov.ie and www.hse.ie.

Further Reading