SCOTS have been urged to keep all poultry and captive birds, including turkeys indoors for 30 days to prevent any spread of a potentially fatal bird flu virus.

The Scottish Government has declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone requiring that all poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors, or otherwise kept separate from wild birds, as it seeks to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

A type of highly pathogenic avian flu, H5N8, has been found in dead wild birds in over a dozen countries across Europe, from Poland to France.

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Although no cases have been found in Scotland and the rest of the UK, it is feared the winter bird migration season heightens the risk of the strain being spread.

The move came as Serbia reported its first case of bird flu, saying that six swans found dead in the northern part of the country Serbia were infected with the H5N8 bird flu strain.

The World Health Organisation has said that the risk of transmission from birds to humans is "relatively low" but has warned that it is "important to be vigilant".

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Human cases of infection with related H5N6 viruses have been detected and reported in China, WHO has said.

"Sporadic human infections with similar types of avian influenza have occurred in the past and the possibility of the virus causing human infection cannot be excluded," said WHO in its most recent update two weeks ago.

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The H5N8 virus has never been detected in humans, unlike some other strains, but it led to the cull of millions of farm birds in Asia in 2014 before spreading to Europe.

The Scottish Government says the prevention zone is a precautionary step. Similar measures were declared in England.

Within the zone bird keepers are legally obliged to take all practicable steps to ensure that poultry and other captive birds kept separate from wild birds - in most cases this will be by keeping birds housed.

Sheila Voas, Scotland chief veterinary officer said that the risk of a spread into poultry in the UK remains at "low, but heightened", although for wild birds the risk has been raised to "medium".

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She said: "It is normal to see these viruses circulating among wild bird populations at this time of year, however the strain seen in Europe appears to be particularly virulent which is a cause for some concern.

“Keeping birds indoors helps to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus, provided that poultry keepers maintain good biosecurity on their premises and remain vigilant for any signs of disease.

“Consumers should not be concerned about eating eggs or poultry given the expert advice about food safety and human health.”

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The government action comes 11 months after 40,000 birds were culled after an outbreaks of the "very mild" strain of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed on Craigie's Poultry Farm, near Dunfermline.

Bob Caruth of the National Farmers Union Scotland said: "It will be a concern to farmers. But there has been a lot of information put out about the possibility in the last few weeks and they are well prepared, so so it won't come as a big shock and they will have plans in place to cope with this."

Penny Johnston, NFU Scotland's animal health and welfare policy manager said: “Looking at the spread of HPAI [Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza] across Europe, it is clear that there is a high risk of infection in wild migratory fowl, posing a risk of cross infection into our commercial birds.  The decision taken by the Scottish Government is sensible, given the risk, and producers will play their part.

“NFU Scotland will continue to monitor the situation and update producers of any changes to the risk status and advice but in the meantime, we urge all poultry keepers to comply with the restriction notice, tighten biosecurity and be aware of the potentially increased risks from wild birds.”

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The NFUS did not think that farmers would be unable to market their Christmas turkeys as "free range" after being kept indoors, saying they will have spent the majority of their lives outdoors.

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H5N8 has circulated the globe since 2014, when it first appeared in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

In late 2014, the strain came to North America, and last year H5N8 viruses were also detected in Taiwan, China, Hungary, and Sweden.

France raised to "high" the risk level across the country a matter of days after it confirmed an outbreak of bird flu on a duck farm killed thousands of ducks and said the virus was spreading through the south west of the region.

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In what is a setback for French poultry and foie gras producers recovering from a bird flu epidemic a year ago, the H5N8 avian influenza virus was confirmed at a farm in the Tarn administrative department, the agriculture ministry said, days after it was detected among wild birds in northern France.

Some 2,000 out of a flock of 5,000 ducks on the first identified farm in the Tarn died and the remaining birds were to be culled.

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The authorities in the Tarn later said the virus had been detected at a second farm nearby and that some 7,000 ducks were being slaughtered in the area.

It was initially detected in Tyva, Russia, in May of 2016, and has followed migratory bird patterns, first appearing in India and then moving west to central Europe, WHO said.

The agency then warned more countries will report cases in the coming weeks, following bird migration patterns.

Dr Jim McMenamin of Health Protection Scotland said that the threat to public health from this strain of avian influenza H5N8 is "very low".

Ian McWatt, Food Standards Scotland operations director said there is presently no public health risk from theconsumption of eggs or poultry in relation to avian influenza.

WHO's advice to the public has been that they should avoid contact with any birds, poultry or wild birds or other animals that are sick or found dead and report them to the relevant authorities.

It said birds or carcasses should not be touched with bare hands.

If carcasses have to be handled, people should wear gloves or use an inverted plastic bag to collect the bird, and then wash hands with soap or a suitable disinfectant.