Bird flu in the UK has reached ‘phenomenal level’

Bird flu in the UK has reached ‘phenomenal level’
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Carl Bennett

By Carl Bennett

Published: 09/12/2021

- 07:39

Updated: 09/12/2021

- 10:30

Tens of thousands of farmed birds have been culled as a result

The UK’s chief vet has reportedly said there is a “phenomenal level” of bird flu in the country following the culling of tens of thousands of farmed birds.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared across the UK on November 3 before being extended on November 29 with the added requirement all captive birds had to be kept indoors, amid concerns wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter were carrying the flu.

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.

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.

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.

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

Speaking in the House of Commons, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Each year the UK faces a seasonal risk in incursion of avian influenza associated with migratory wild birds. While we have that each year, I have to say this year we are now seeing the largest-ever outbreak in the UK of avian influenza with 36 confirmed cases.”

On the measures the Government is taking, he added: “We have put in place an avian influenza prevention zone that came into force on the November 3 in England and November 17 in Northern Ireland, and an additional housing order was introduced on November 29. Our chief veterinary officer continues to lead the response to this episode.”

Conservative MP Scott Benton told the Commons “15 swans died last month following an outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus”, in Blackpool’s Stanley Park.

The Blackpool South MP went on: “Sadly, over the last month, avian flu has been found in several areas across the UK, further cases have been confirmed this week.”

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