health

Bird flu: Thousands of turkeys to be culled after outbreak but experts say little threat to humans


M

ore than 10,000 turkeys will be culled at a farm in North Yorkshire following a bird flu outbreak.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said avian influenza poses little risk to public health and this strain of the virus does not affect food safety.

All 10,500 birds at the turkey fattening site in North Allerton will be humanely culled to limit the spread of the disease, and a 3km and 10km Temporary Control Zone has been put in place to stop the disease spreading.

Public Health England (PHE) and the Food Standards Agency assured consumers avian influenzas pose a very low risk to people and properly cooked poultry products including eggs are safe to eat.

It follows outbreaks across the UK in November including at a Herefordshire chicken farm on November 11 and cases among geese and swans in Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset, and Co Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss, who advises the Government on animal welfare, said “immediate steps” were taken to stop the disease from spreading when it was detected at the North Yorkshire farm on Saturday. 

She added: “Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspected disease immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises.

“We are urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread associated with this farm to control and eliminate it.”

Dr Gavin Dabrera, consultant in acute respiratory infections at PHE, said the World Health Organisation has never confirmed a case of the avian flu strain (H5N8) in humans.

He said: “As a precaution the local Health Protection Team will offer routine health advice to those working on the farm. We will work with Defra to monitor the situation closely.”

A detailed investigation is in progress to determine the most likely source of this outbreak, but Defra has said it does not anticipate any impact on the supply of turkeys or other birds over Christmas.

Wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter period can spread the disease to poultry and other captive birds.

As a result of outbreaks in the UK, new restrictions were declared nationwide to prevent the spread of the “highly infectious” flu earlier in November.

Dr Middlemiss said England, Scotland and Wales were now an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ), meaning bird keepers will have to legally follow strict new measures including regulations where keepers with more than 500 birds must restrict access to their sites.

Workers will need to change clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures and site vehicles will need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

So-called backyard owners with smaller numbers of poultry including chickens, ducks and geese have also been urged to strengthen biosecurity measures.



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