Read more about bird flu (avian influenza)
Thankfully, since last month’s outbreak of avian influenza H5N8 on a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire, there have been no further reports of avian influenza in the UK.
Within the EU, H5N8 outbreaks have now been reported on a total of five poultry farms in the South Holland region of the Netherlands, and one turkey farm in Germany. Within wild bird populations, the virus has been confirmed in one common teal (Anas crecca) in Germany and two Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope) in the Netherlands (a further 955 birds that were tested were not infected). To date, there have been no reports of the H5N8 virus in wild birds in the UK.
Investigations into the source of the EU outbreaks continue, and at this stage the role of wild birds in the spread of the virus is unknown. However the outbreaks in Europe all occurred in farms in which the poultry were housed, therefore direct contact between wild waterfowl and farmed birds is very unlikely.
See here for a full update on H5N8 avian influenza in poultry and wild birds from a UN convened scientific task force.
Defra animal health laboratory has confirmed that the outbreak in East Yorkshire is the H5N8 strain. This is the same strain as that which has caused outbreaks among poultry in Germany and the Netherlands in the last week.
However there are no known records of this strain being detected in humans and the risk to public health remains very low.
Defra investigations continue. Over the next few days the outcome of tests on all poultry holdings within a 3km protection zone around the outbreak site will be known. The restrictions on movements of all poultry, products and waste and the restriction on the release of gamebirds within a 10km surveillance zone still apply, and a cull of 6000 ducks on the farm was due to be completed yesterday. These are important measures to minimise the risk of disease spread to other farms or into the wild bird population.
A field assessment around the outbreak site found low levels of wild bird activity. Although it is still unclear how this strain entered the UK, the possibility that wild birds were responsible continues to look unlikely.
It was disturbing to hear of the news of an outbreak of Avian Influenza in East Yorkshire on yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme – there is a well rehearsed process for alerting the network of organisations, including us, in the event of a confirmed outbreak. But our notification did arrive later in the day.
In any event – it soon became clear that Monday would be busy in terms of media interest in the story and we would be drawn in not least because, from the start, official statements were implicating the movement of wild birds in the outbreak.
That all birds can catch bird flu is true ... that the disease can travel along with populations of wild birds is also beyond doubt, but slack assumptions about the cause of any outbreak before the facts are known is unhelpful and is a flame that is fanned by lazy journalism.
I dashed to the BBC studio in Cambridge yesterday evening, welcoming the opportunity to address the frankly unlikely idea that ‘swans from the east’ brought the virus to a commercial duck flock housed in a barn 24/7. The lessons from the outbreaks of the strain of the virus H5N1, a type that is known to carry human health risks should have been learned - don’t thrash around in speculation, establish the facts.
Yesterday was busy in the media office – my colleague Jess Chappell, our policy lead on Bird flu was equally occupied, here’s her summary of day 1.
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