UK's chief veterinary officer warns bird flu is at 'PHENOMENAL level'

Britain’s chief veterinary officer warns bird flu is at ‘PHENOMENAL level’ after being spread by migratory species as tens of thousands of birds are culled at 38 farms – the ‘largest’ ever recorded

  • An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared across the UK in November
  • This included the added requirement that all captive birds had to be kept indoors
  • The risk to human health remains very low and there is a low food safety risk
  • But Christine Middlemiss said it has ‘huge human, animal and trade implications’

Britain’s chief veterinary officer has warned bird flu is at a ‘phenomenal level’ after being spread by migratory species as tens of thousands of birds are culled at 40 farms – the ‘largest’ ever recorded.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared across the UK on November 3 before being extended on November 29 with the added requirement that all captive birds had to be kept indoors.

This was done amid concerns wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter were carrying the flu.

Yesterday, six pelicans that call St James’s Park their home were being moved to an enclosure after the outbreak of bird flu in the UK

Swan rescue volunteer Cyril Bennis has said that his flock of birds are dying at ‘a rapid rate’ after a suspected Avian Flu outbreak

Also known as avian influenza, bird flu is an infectious disease of birds caused by a variant of the standard influenza A virus. 

Bird flu is unique in that it can be transmitted directly from birds to humans. 

There are 15 different strains of the virus. It is the H5N1 strain which is infecting humans and causing high death rates. 

Humans can catch bird flu directly through close contact with live infected birds and those who work with infected chickens are most at risk. 

The current number of 38 confirmed infected premises in the UK is the largest ever, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The risk to human health from avian influenza remains very low, according to public health advice, and there is a low food safety risk.

But UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss told the BBC the ‘phenomenal level’ of bird flu has ‘huge human, animal and trade implications’.

She said the disease was being spread by migratory birds flying back from the north of Russia and eastern Europe, and insisted further research was needed to prevent a worsening outbreak in the future.

‘We can’t wait until another year and have an even bigger outbreak. So, we will be working not just with our own scientists but internationally, to understand more of what we can do about what’s behind it,’ Dr Middlemiss told the broadcaster.

The vet warned the UK was only a few weeks into a migratory season that goes until March, as Defra’s figures showed 31 confirmed infected premises in England, three in Wales, two in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland.

‘We are going to need to keep up these levels of heightened biosecurity for all that time,’ she said.

Dr Middlemiss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there are 40 infected premises in the UK – 38 in Great Britain including 33 in England, adding that around half a million birds have been culled so far.

The protection zone means in addition to keeping birds and poultry housed, keepers must continue to take precautions such as regularly cleaning and disinfecting clothing, equipment and vehicles and limiting access to non-essential workers and visitors.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss (pictured) told the BBC the ‘phenomenal level’ of bird flu has ‘huge human, animal and trade implications’

Defra has said the new housing measures will be kept under regular review.

Yesterday, six pelicans that call St James’s Park their home were being moved to an enclosure after the outbreak of bird flu in the UK.

A ranger was spotted loading one of the huge birds into the boot of a car next to the lake in the central London park.

The Royal Parks said in a statement that they had been advised by the government to move the pelicans as a ‘precaution’ due the outbreak.

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