IT HAS been confirmed that the strain of bird flu found in a dead goose in Weymouth is highly pathogenic – leading to a warning for bird keepers to remain alert for signs of disease to protect their flocks.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has also confirmed that a swan has tested positive for the H5N8 strain of avian influenza in Poole, although it is not yet known whether the strain is highly infectious.

The wild goose was found dead near Weymouth two weeks ago and tested positive for the high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8 during routine surveillance by the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

HPAI is highly contagious among birds and can spread rapidly throughout poultry flocks.

A spokesman for DEFRA said: "Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining strong biosecurity measures on their premises."

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss added: "It is important now more than ever that bird keepers ensure they are doing all they can to maintain and strengthen good biosecurity on their premises to ensure we prevent further outbreaks."

According to DEFRA, in addition to the two cases in Dorset, birds near Stroud in Gloucestershire, Dawlish in Devon, Ormskirk in Lancashire, Boston in Lincolnshire, Godmanchester in Cambridge and Rochford in Essex have tested positive for avian influenza H5N8.

Public Health England (PHE) has advised that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the Food Standards Agency has advised that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

Dr Gavin Dabrera, Consultant in Acute Respiratory Infections at PHE said: "To date, there have been no human cases of infection with influenza A(H5N8) confirmed by the World Health Organisation and the risk to public health is very low.

"Our advice regarding contact with wild birds remains the same – make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap after coming into contact with any animal and do not touch any sick or dead birds."

If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 33 55 77).