Defra moves swiftly to contain bird flu outbreak

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed a case of bird flu on a Yorkshire duck breeding farm.

The farm, in Nafferton, East Yorkshire, has reported a case of H5 avian influenza. While the exact strain is unconfirmed, Defra officials have ruled out the H5N1 form, which is deadly to humans.

As well as culling all 6,000 birds on the farm, Defra has imposed a three-kilometre protection and 10-kilometre surveillance zone around the farm. 

A Defra spokeswoman said: “We have confirmed a case of avian flu on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire – the public health risk is very low and there is no risk to the food chain.

“We are taking immediate and robust action, which includes introducing a restriction zone and culling all poultry on the farm to prevent any potential spread of infection. A detailed investigation is ongoing.

“We have a strong track record of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK.”

Public Health England said in a statement there was little risk to public health: “Public Health England are assisting Defra in the investigation of an avian flu outbreak at a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire. Based on what we know about this specific strain of avian influenza, the risk to human health in this case is considered extremely low.”

There will be fear throughout the poultry industry that the outbreak will impact on poultry sales which was highlighted by Andrew Large, chief excutive of the British Poultry Council (BPC).

“Consumers should continue to support British poultry meat, assured that there is no risk in eating cooked poultry, and that is a message echoed by the Food Standards Agency and the World Health Organisation.

“The rapid containment and culling of this outbreak has proved how effective partnership between government and the poultry sector can be. Defra, the other agencies involved, and the industry, have dealt with the situation in a rapid and effective way and the controls in place are proportionate to the risk poultry farmers faced,” Large added.

There have been two recent cases of the H5N8 strain of bird flu – in Germany earlier this month and The Netherlands over the weekend. Although this strain has never been found in humans, it is highly contagious among poultry. The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) told Reuters news agency it was possible the strain found in Europe could be the same found in Yorkshire.

“Some migrating birds can travel thousands of kilometres,” Bernard Vallat told Reuters. “[The virus] could appear anywhere at any time.”

The NHS website on bird flu stated: “Bird flu, or avian flu, is an infectious viral illness that spreads among birds. In rare cases it can affect humans.

“There are many types of bird flu, most of which are harmless to humans. However, two types have caused serious concern in recent years. These are the H5N1 (since 1997) and H7N9 (since 2013) viruses.

“Other bird flu viruses (particularly H7N7 and H9N2) have also infected people, but these have rarely caused severe illness.”

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