The government has announced an outbreak of bird flu on a chicken farm in Dereham, Norfolk.
Current information from Defra suggests that this is an H7 virus, and that it is likely to be a low pathogenicity form of the disease. If so, it is a different disease to the H5N1 virus found in the dead whooper swan at Cellardyke. Low pathogenicity would mean that it will not be as virulent as a high pathogenicity virus. There have been no reports of the disease affecting any wild bird and the source of the infection is apparently unknown.
Confirmation of the strain type is expected within the next 24 hours.
A number of chickens have died, and the affected flock is to be slaughtered, in accordance with the government’s strategy for the control of a notifiable disease in poultry. Strict biosecurity measures have been implemented on the farm and movement restrictions will be imposed in the immediate vicinity of the incident, dependent on further test results to type the virus.
The Government has announced that Highly Pathogenic H5 avian influenza was confirmed in the UK on 5 April 2006. Confirmation of the 'N' type is expected shortly. The virus was detected in a dead mute swan near Anstruther in Fife, East Scotland.
This discovery was not unexpected, especially after the severe weather movements of birds from the Baltic region in the week beginning 13 February, which brought the virus to many European countries. It is not clear whether the swan brought the infection from a prior infected country and died soon after arrival, in which case this may be an isolated incident, or whether a different species of bird carried the infection to Scotland and the swan contracted the virus locally (in which case more cases might be anticipated).
The risk to human health remains extremely low. Wild birds are not spreading pandemic influenza. The virus in its current for is difficult for humans to contract from birds. Of just over 190 human cases recorded worldwide, only one may have been associated with wild birds.
Nevertheless, if you come across the carcass of a wild bird, you should not touch it, but report it to the Defra helpline (England Scotland & Wales) on 08459 335577 or the DARD helpline (Northern Ireland) on 02890 525618.
The public should continue to enjoy the countryside and its birds.
Movement controls of poultry have been put in place within the Government declared 3 km protection and 10 km surveillance zone around the outbreak. The RSPB will be carrying out daily surveillance of reserves closest to the outbreak, but all nature reserves remain open, and they are still welcoming visitors – there is no need to stop visiting the countryside. There is a good chance of keeping the disease out of poultry, provided poultry owners are responsible and follow the Defra guidelines on biosecurity and movements.
The RSPB will continue to monitor the situation and participate in the Government’s surveillance strategy and contingency plan. There is no reason to stop feeding garden birds but as always, good hygiene should be followed. This includes washing your hands thoroughly after filling or cleaning bird feeders, hand-feeding pigeons or ducks, or if you come into contact with bird droppings.