29 May 2017 | Online since 2003

8 February 2017

AI cases continue to rise


The Government's chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens

The number of outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the United Kingdom had increased to at least seven at the time that the Ranger went to press.

The latest cases were on a series of game units in Lancashire. Some 63,000 birds, including pheasants, partridges and ducks, were culled on one of them. AI was found at a turkey rearing unit with 19,500 birds near Boston in Lincolnshire towards the end of January. Just days earlier AI was confirmed in a 10,000-bird flock of farmed breeding pheasants in Preston, Lancashire. Also in January, AI was confirmed on a turkey farm in East Lindsey, Lincolnshire - not far from the turkey unit near Louth where the first case of AI was discovered in December. The virus has also been found in backyard flocks in North Yorkshire and in Wales. In all the cases, tests confirmed that the virus involved was highly pathogenic H5N8.

The Government's chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said, "We have taken swift action to limit the risk of the disease spreading with restrictions in place around the affected premises."

He appealed to everyone to be vigilant for signs of disease and to take steps to minimise the risk of birds catching the disease from wild birds – either directly or through the environment.

"This means complying with the legal requirement currently in place to house birds or otherwise keep them separate from wild birds and following strict bio-security measures to minimise the risk of avian flu spreading via the environment."

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that the latest outbreak involved the same H5N8 strain of avian influenza involved in the previous UK outbreaks and in 761 outbreaks in 18 countries across Europe. Restriction zones have been established around all the affected units and British authorities have ordered all free range poultry to remain housed until the end of February in an attempt to prevent the disease spreading.

The first case on a commercial unit in the UK was confirmed on December 16. More than 5,000 birds were affected. The Ranger understands that 80 per cent of the turkeys - destined for Christmas dinner tables - were wiped out by the virus. The rest were culled once the virus was confirmed.

H5N8 has also been discovered in wild birds in a number of parts of the United Kingdom. The same virus has also been discovered in 17 other countries across Europe, as well as in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

A three-kilometre protection zone and a 10-kilometre surveillance zone were immediately erected around the newly affected premises. Restrictions had previously been put in place around the existing outbreaks. On January 18, the 10-kilometre surveillance zone (SZ) around the infected premises near Louth was lifted. However, the protection zone and surveillance zone for the second Lincolnshire case covers very similar areas and they remain force.

All poultry keepers are being urged to keep a close watch on the health of their birds, and take steps to reduce the risk of infection via the environment - for example in wild bird droppings, by practicing good bio-security. Defra says that this should be done even when birds are inside.

Public Health England (PHE) said there was very little risk to people from the outbreak. “Avian flu is primarily a disease of birds," said a PHE spokesman. "There have never been any recorded cases of H5N8 in humans and the risk to public health is considered very low. We continue to work closely with Defra throughout this investigation. Despite the risk being very low, we will offer health advice to those people who may have been exposed on the farm as a precaution.”

The Food Standards Agency has made clear that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for consumers. It says that thoroughly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

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