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UK hit by first H5N1 bird flu outbreak in poultry

Reuters | February 3, 2007
Luke MacGregor

Tony Blair now finds himself hanging on to the end of his career. He is receiving criticism from all sides on his support of the failed Iraq war, accusations of corruption and scandal, and a rapidly growing public outcry for his resignation. Amidst Blair's personal and political turmoil, we are beginning to see a ratcheting-up of threats in the UK from the so-called "beheading plot" to these frightful outbreaks of birdflu. The fires of fear are stoked each and every time Blair feels threatened. With each threat the flames burn a little hotter until the public is too scared to remember just how mad they were about their failed leadership.

HOLTON (Reuters) - Britain scrambled 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 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 in which 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 could be easily transmitted between humans and 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.

"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," he said.

A protection zone was established with a radius of 3 km (2 miles) and a surveillance zone of 10 km around the infected farm. Bird gatherings such as bird shows and pigeon racing were suspended nationwide.

Further tests were being taken to determine whether it was the Asian strain of the virus.

Across the North Sea, Norway, which has had no cases of the deadly birdflu strain, responded to the news by ordering farmers to keep poultry indoors in the area south of Nordland county and banned bird gatherings, such as bird shows and competitions.

Britain's poultry industry is worth 3.4 billion pounds ($6.7 billion), with 800 million birds produced each year.

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.

EU confirms virulent H5N1 bird flu found at British poultry farm

AFP | February 3, 2007

The European Commission has confirmed that the bird flu virus detected at a turkey farm in eastern England was the virulent H5N1 strain.

The European Union's reference laboratory in England had confirmed the deadly strain, which can be transmitted to humans, the EU's executive arm said in a statement Saturday.

"Samples from the infected establishment were immediately sent to the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, which has this morning swiftly confirmed the disease to be the H5N1 strain of avian influenza," the statement said.

"Further tests to characterise the virus are underway, in order to ascertain whether or not it is the Asian strain."

British officials announced on Friday that they had detected the H5 strain of the virus at a farm run by food processing company Bernard Matthews in Holton, Suffolk.


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