First Bird Flu Outbreak In
UK - 2500 Turkeys

By Luke MacGregor

HOLTON, England (Reuters) - Britain tried to contain its first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in domestic poultry on Saturday after the virus was found at a farm run by Europe's biggest turkey producer.
Some 2,500 turkeys have died since Thursday at the Bernard Matthews farm near Lowestoft in eastern England. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said all 159,000 turkeys on the farm would now be culled.
"We're in new territory," National Farmers' Union Poultry Board chairman Charles Bourns told Reuters. "We've every confidence in Defra but, until we know how this disease arrived, this is a very apprehensive time for all poultry farmers."
The outbreak mirrored a similar case where hundreds of turkeys died at a farm in eastern France almost a year ago.
That outbreak was contained and there followed a lull in cases of H5N1 in European poultry until last month, when it was found to have killed thousands of geese on a farm in Hungary.
The strain tends to be transmitted to poultry by infected migrating wildfowl.
It has killed at least 164 people worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia, and more than 200 million birds have died from it, or been killed to prevent its spread.
But it has not yet fulfilled scientists' worst fears by mutating into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans and could possibly cause a global pandemic.
Avian flu expert Colin Butter of the Institute of Animal Health said the British outbreak was surprising as it had happened outside the main bird migration period:
"We would not expect this to happen in the middle of winter. If it was going to happen we would expect it to happen in spring.
"The next thing we need to know is if this is a primary or secondary case. If this is a secondary case, it is much more serious. If this is the first case, or 'reference case', and we can stamp it out, the outbreak will be controlled."
The British government enforced EU-agreed controls to contain the outbreak, which means setting up a protection zone with a radius of 3 km (2 miles) and a surveillance zone of 10 km around the infected farm, the EU Commission said.
Britain's poultry industry is worth 3.4 billion pounds ($6.7 billion), with 800 million birds produced each year.
"As long as people don't walk away, the industry will be okay," added Bourns. "Hopefully they'll realise this is a disease of poultry and not people, and there is no danger from eating birds."
Police sealed off access to the sheds housing the turkeys at the farm, located on a former U.S. air base. Television footage showed dead birds being dumped into a waiting truck.
The Health Protection Agency said the current level of risk to humans from H5N1 was extremely low.
In May, 50,000 chickens at three farms in Norfolk, also in eastern England and home to some of Europe's biggest poultry farms, were culled after another strain, H7N3, was detected.
A wild swan found dead in Scotland in March had the H5N1 version of the virus. It was thought to have caught the disease elsewhere, died at sea and been washed ashore in Scotland.
Bourns said those two scares had cost the British poultry industry 58 million pounds ($115 million). (Additional reporting by Tim Pearce in London)
Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
Univ of West Indies
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