Health chiefs have warned the public to avoid contact with live or dead birds after an outbreak of bird flu has been confirmed in Worcester.

Worcester City Council has now blocked off part of the riverside path in a bid to protect the public and stop the spread between the city's swans.

Metal fencing has been erected around the steps to the swan sanctuary area by Worcester Bridge. 

The council has also urged residents not to feed the swans until the outbreak is under control, and to avoid touching loose feathers and surfaces that are contaminated with bird waste.

This comes after the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has confirmed there is avian influenza A (H5N1), otherwise known as bird flu, in wild bird populations in Worcestershire and the Stratford area of Warwickshire.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is now urging people in Worcestershire not to touch any sick or dead wild birds – with avian flu confirmed in the swan populations around Diglis Basin in Worcester.

Worcester City Council, The UKHSA, and Stratford District Council say they are working with APHA and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to manage the situation and protect public health and the risk to other birds.

The strain of bird flu was first diagnosed in birds at a wild bird rescue centre near Droitwich last week.

A statement released by Wychbold Swan Rescue told of how they were "devastated" that they will have to cull their birds after the outbreak.

Swans at the Diglis Basin in Worcester then became sick, with this same strain of avian flu confirmed.

Dead birds were collected from around the River Avon in Stratford town centre and sent to APHA’s laboratory for testing, and results showed the same strain of avian flu was present.

The A(H5N1) strain is highly pathogenic to other birds, but the risk to human health is said to be considered 'very low'.

However, health chiefs have warned it is vital that people do not touch sick live birds or bird carcasses, and infection control measures may be necessary if they do.

Angela Cartwright, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control with the UKHSA in the West Midlands, said: "The risk to the public from this strain of avian flu is very low, however, it is important that people do not touch any sick or dead birds.

"As a precaution, anyone who was not wearing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) while in contact with the droppings or birds in an area where the infection has been confirmed, will require close monitoring and a course of antiviral medication for 10 days from last contact with infected birds."

In areas where the infection has been confirmed or is suspected, anyone who has been in contact with sick or dead birds or their droppings, while not wearing the correct PPE, should make sure any footwear is properly cleaned and thoroughly wash their hands in soap and water.

They should then notify the UK Health Security Agency’s West Midlands Health Protection Team on 0344 225 3560 so that public health experts can determine if antiviral medication and active surveillance of their condition is necessary.

If someone handled infected birds while wearing adequate PPE, they must still undergo active surveillance.

Councillor Andy Stafford, Chair of Worcester City Council’s Environment Committee, said: "Worcester City Council has acted swiftly to fence off the area around the city’s swan sanctuary, and I would like to ask people not to feed the swans until this outbreak is under control.

"Feeding encourages them to congregate and that increases the risk of the disease spreading.

"If you find a dead bird, let us know at or on 01905 722 233. Do not touch or move dead birds and keep dogs away from them."

Following a several detections of bird flu in wild birds across Great Britain, the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland and Wales declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the whole of Great Britain, to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds.

Since 5pm on Wednesday, all bird keepers have been legally required to follow strict biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks.

Under the prevention zone, people with more than 500 birds must now restrict access for non-essential visitors, change clothing and footwear before entering enclosures, and ensure vehicles are cleaned and disinfected regularly. 

Small 'backyard owners' with only a small number of birds, including chicken, ducks and geese, have been told to limit risks and keep watch for signs of disease.

Bird flu circulates naturally among wild birds, with migration from the UK to mainland Europe during the winter a common cause of the spread.