Possible human bird flu cases linked to Hants outbreak

Three people were tested for bird flu after showing symptoms following a confirmed case of the H7 strain on a chicken farm in Hampshire.

The tests have since come back negative. Meanwhile, a cull of the 10,000 chickens on the farm in Upham is under way and a one-kilometre restriction zone has been imposed.

Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have confirmed the outbreak is of “low severity” and said robust action was being taken to control its spread.

Poultry farmers across the country are being urged to remain vigilant.

This is the second case of bird flu in the UK in three months after the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was confirmed on a duck farm in East Yorkshire in November 2014. Defra said there was no relationship between the two cases.

Defra urged poultry farmers who recognise signs of avian influenza in their birds to contact the department immediately.

Symptoms in birds include: swollen head; blue discolouration of neck and throat; loss of appetite; respiratory distress such as a gaping beak; coughing; sneezing; gurgling; rattling; diarrhoea; fewer eggs laid; and increased mortality.

Clinical signs can vary between species of bird and some species may show minimal clinical signs (ducks and geese).

Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery said the case was “extremely worrying”. “I’ve been liaising closely with Public Health England, based in Fareham, Hampshire County Council and Defra throughout today to ensure I’m kept up to date with developments,” he said.

“There is no doubt the authorities are taking it very seriously and regular updates will be issued in due course.”

Industry reaction

Andrew Large, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said: “Swift action is being taken to control the outbreak and we are monitoring the situation closely. Avian influenza is a disease of birds and Public Health England have stated that the risk to public health is very low, whilst the Food Standards Agency (FSA) state that there is no food safety risk for consumers.

“Poultry farmers are urged to maintain high vigilance and biosecurity.”

Chief vet Nigel Gibbens said: “We have taken immediate action to contain this outbreak as part of our robust procedures for dealing swiftly with avian flu. This is a low-severity form of the virus and we are taking action to ensure that the disease does not spread or develop into a more severe form. We are investigating the possible sources of the outbreak.

“I would urge poultry keepers in the surrounding area to be vigilant for any signs of disease and to ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises.”

Professor Nick Phin, director of Public Health England’s Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control, said: “Based on what we know about this strain of avian influenza and the actions that have been taken, the risk to human health in this case is considered very low. Public Health England continues to work closely with Defra throughout this investigation.”

A spokesperson for the FSA said: “On the basis of current scientific evidence, Food Standards Agency advice is that avian (bird) flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

“Laboratory investigations on the outbreak indicate that it is the N7 sub-type of H7, but this will need to be confirmed in further testing.”

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