So far, the majority of birds reported as having the H5N1 strain of the virus in
Europe have been water birds such as Swans, Ducks and Geese. It is obvious from this
(and from the known fact that the virus, apart from being airborne, is also passed
on through the faeces of birds) that the virus lives for a given period in water.
Exactly how long that period is, is open to discussion among the Medical and Veterinary
specialists, but some are saying months rather than days. Transmission of the virus
from bird to bird can therefore be completed by drinking contaminated water or by
eating weed or algae that has infected faecal particles attached.
From this it is fairly obvious that water users like anglers, swimmers, boaters etc.
are also at risk if they are in contact with infected or contaminated water. It is
therefore possible that the use of water for recreational or sports reasons could
be curtailed or even banned in some areas where there is a local risk to poultry
farms or wild life centres and if the fishery comes within an exclusion zone.
So just exactly what can we as anglers do to protect ourselves and avoid spreading
the H5N1 virus?
First, make sure your hands that have been in contact with water are thoroughly disinfected
before handling food or drink. Any cuts or abrasion should be sealed by waterproof
covering or plastic gloves. Also make sure that no parts of your tackle come into
contact with your mouth. At the end of the day make sure items of clothing particularly
shoes or boots, that may have particles of bird faeces attached, are cleaned and
not taken into your homes to come into contact with family members or pets. Please
don’t go from one fishery to another, if at all possible, without letting your tackle
and nets completely dry out and also to avoid the risk of transmission from shoes
or car tyres.
The Greylag Goose family, pictured above, are typical of many spring scenes on waters
up and down the country. It is essential that all birds are healthy and stress free
and we as anglers can help by respecting their right of presence on our waters and
where possible, to supplement their diet. I am perfectly happy to feed any young
or adult birds out of hand while fishing, but will then make sure I clean my hands
thoroughly afterwards with a disinfectant wipe. It can’t be recommend strongly enough
that you feed, look after and respect all the birds on your water, for remember healthy,
stress free birds are less likely to pick up any diseases in the first place and
are therefore less likely to bring the H5N1 virus back to your waters.
Should you spot any birds that are obviously sick or dead while fishing, don’t touch
them or get too close unless you are used to handling infected animals and have protective
clothing and masks. Warn other anglers on the fishery and inform DEFRA, the RSPCA,
a local Vet or the local Police and, most importantly, a Bailiff on the fishery.
If you can remain on the fishery until authorities arrive and point out the birds
to them, so much the better. For more, up to date information visit the DEFRA website.