- 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
- 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.
- UNUSUAL OUTBREAK
- 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
- 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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