In Brief

H7N7 virus: bird flu confirmed at poultry farm in Lancashire

Six-mile surveillance zone is in place to help stop the spread of the highly pathogenic virus

A case of avian flu has been confirmed at a poultry farm in Lancashire, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has announced.

The H7N7 virus detected is highly pathogenic and efforts are underway to stop the spread of the disease. Humane culling has begun, with thousands of bird expected to be slaughtered.

A six-mile surveillance zone and an inner 1.8 mile protection zone have been set up around the farm, officials said. Poultry farms within these zones are not allowed are to move poultry or other animals as a result.

While this strain of the virus can infect humans, it is not as deadly as the H5N1 strain that has killed hundreds of people worldwide, reports The Guardian. No humans have been infected with the disease in the UK. 

Defra's chief vet Nigel Gibbens said the restrictions put in place to protect livestock and humans are "part of our tried and tested approach to dealing with previous outbreaks".

Public Health England said the risk to public health from this strain of bird flu is very low and the Food Standards Agency insists there is no food safety risk for consumers. 

Bird keepers are advised to "remain alert" and to immediately report any suspected cases to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

Bird flu briefing

What is bird flu?

Avian flu is a highly infectious type of influenza virus that infects birds, but certain strains have mutated and now have the ability to cause severe respiratory disease in humans. These include the H5N1 and H7N9 viruses, which both originated in China and have killed hundreds of people and millions of birds over the last two decades. 

Like any other type of flu, early symptoms include a cough, runny nose, high temperature and aching muscles. "Within days, potentially fatal complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and multiple organ failure may develop," says the NHS

How does it spread?

Bird flu is typically spread through direct contact with infected birds, their droppings or secretions from their eyes or mouth, but there is no evidence that disease can be spread by properly cooked meat. Human-to-human contact is possible but extremely rare, according to the World Health Organization.

How dangerous is it?

The mortality rate is high; nearly 60 per cent of all human cases are fatal. This figure suggests the virus has the potential to wipe out millions of people if it became easily transmissible between humans. 

How is treated?

Treatment includes medication such as aspirin and paracetamol to help alleviate pain and fever.  Evidence also suggests that some antiviral drugs can help reduce the severity of the disease and improve prospects of survival by stopping the virus from multiplying. Vaccines against the disease are currently in development, but are not yet ready for widespread use.

Bird flu: 'risky' research is 'vital to prevent pandemic'

28 May

An outbreak of bird flu could be as deadly as the Spanish flu pandemic unless further research into human transmission of the virus is allowed, a leading infectious diseases expert has warned.

Professor Derek Smith from Cambridge University was part of team that genetically modified the virus to pass from human to human, but research was brought to end in 2012 by fears that the information could be hijacked by terrorists and used as a bioweapon.

The H1N1 virus has killed an estimated 360 people and millions of birds worldwide since 2003 and is not yet naturally transmissible between humans. However, Smith warns that the disease only needs a handful of mutations before that would be possible, and that they are already occurring in the wild.

A moratorium on research risks leaving the world exposed to a pandemic as deadly as the outbreak in 1918 which killed 50 million people, warned Smith, according to the Daily Telegraph

"Remember how dangerous a flu pandemic can be," he said. "Was it really the right decision back then to stop this research?"

Smith also said that the team of scientists who worked on mutating the virus had received death threats because the work was so controversial, and that this had had a "chilling effect" on future research.

"We are in a situation where we could actually know more information about this virus. Within a couple of months we could know how it could transmit between humans and how likely that is to happen," he said. 

"If that virus in our lab emerged today it would be as devastating as in 1918. We don't know how likely that is but we would be a lot closer to knowing if the research could continue."

Bird flu: emergency measure set up to stop further infection

18 November

Emergency measures to contain outbreaks of bird flu in Europe have been announced amid fears the disease could spread to other poultry farms, including Christmas turkey suppliers.

A cull of 6,000 ducks is due to start today at a breeding farm in east Yorkshire, where bird flu was discovered for the first time in the UK in six years.

A six-mile exclusion zone has been set up around the farm preventing the movement of all poultry.

The flu strain has been identified as the H5 virus, but not the H5N1 strain that is known to have spread from birds to humans.

Scientists are testing if it is linked to outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N8 strain in the Netherlands and Germany, where more than 180,000 birds have been culled.

The European Commission said the British outbreak was "probably of the same type" and is likely to be linked to migratory birds.

The commission has announced measures to contain the virus, including a ban on poultry and egg transportation throughout the Netherlands.

Environment Secretary Liz Truss has assured the House of Commons that the risk to public health is very low and that turkey, duck and other poultry is completely safe to eat.

Nevertheless, poultry farmers fear consumer confidence could be hit as the £4.4bn industry gears up for Christmas, says the Daily Telegraph.

Dr Rob Noad, a virologist at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, told the Daily Mirror that if the disease spread to turkey farms there could be a shortage at Christmas and a sharp rise in prices.

"Bio-security is very high at turkey farms, but this story will be of big concern to the industry – especially at this time of year," he said.

The newspaper says there are at least three independent turkey breeding farms in a 30-mile radius of the outbreak in Nafferton, east Yorkshire.

Bird flu confirmed at Yorkshire farm - first UK case in six years

17 November

A six-mile exclusion zone has been set up in east Yorkshire after bird flu was discovered at a duck breeding farm – the first case in the UK since 2008.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said around 6,000 ducks will be culled to prevent any potential spread of infection, but insisted that the risk to public health was very low.

The exclusion zone around the farm, in the Driffield area, will prevent all poultry and poultry waste being transferred in or out of the area, says the BBC.

Defra said it had a "strong track record" of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK. "We have confirmed a case of avian flu on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire – the public health risk is very low and there is no risk to the food chain," said a spokeswoman. She added that a detailed investigation is ongoing.

Bird flu is a type of influenza virus that does not usually infect humans. However, certain strains have mutated and gained this ability. In the last few years there have been human cases of bird flu strains, such as H7N9 and H5N1.

Yesterday a highly contagious strain was discovered at a poultry farm in the Netherlands, prompting the Dutch government to temporarily ban the transport of poultry and eggs. Officials did not name the variant but said it was "very dangerous" for bird life and could be transmitted from animals to humans.

The strain found in Yorkshire appears to be H5, but not the deadly H5N1 variant. Laboratory test results are expected early this week.

A Public Health England spokesman also said the risk to human health in this case is "considered extremely low".

H7N9, first detected in China last year, led to dozens of deaths, while H5N1 killed hundreds of people in previous outbreaks.

The most recent case of bird flu in the UK was six years ago, when chickens on a farm in Banbury, Oxfordshire tested positive for the virus.

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