November, 2014

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Bird flu updates

This blog will be updated with the latest news on the avian influenza (bird flu) situation.
  • H5N8 avian influenza confirmed

    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.

  • Avian flu, deja vu

    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.

    • Defra has confirmed an outbreak of Avian Influenza on a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire (near Driffield). Investigations have so far confirmed that it is not the H5N1 strain known to be infectious for humans. We expect to find out the exact strain responsible for the current outbreak later today.

    • Defra has initiated its Contingency Plan and has taken immediate action to prevent the spread of infection. This includes a 3km protection zone and 10k restriction zone around the outbreak, and culling of all poultry on the farm. Culling should start today.

    • At present it is unclear how this strain has entered the UK. However data on bird migration patterns suggests little contact between the location of the outbreaks in the Netherlands and Germany and the outbreak site in Yorkshire. It therefore looks unlikely that wild birds are responsible for this outbreak.

    • The ducks on the farm are housed and this, along with the measures that Defra are instigating, should limit the chances of this infection spreading to the wild bird population.

    • A further Defra investigation is underway to understand the origin of the disease and confirm that there are no further cases. We will update this blog with new information as and when the situation develops.

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