Avian influenza hits UK domestic flock

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Avian influenza Influenza Influenza pandemic

Poultry processors across Europe are bracing themselves for another
downturn in consumption after the discovery of the deadly form of
bird flu in a domestic flock of turkeys in the UK.

On Friday the UK confirmed on Friday evening that tests showed that the avian flu which killed 2,600 turkeys at aSuffolk farm was H5N1, the form of the virus that can been transmitted from poultry to humans.Another 160, 000 turkeys are being culled and an EU-mandated restriction zone was placed around theenclosed poultry farm.

While the UK's regulators are advising the public that the risk of H5N1 being transmitted frompoultry to humans was "extremely low", they can take heed of what happened last year inEurope, when a number of countries were affected by outbreaks. Due to a decline in consumption andexports due to the disease, some EU members were forced last year to stockpile supplies, leading toa glut in the market.

The UK outbreak represents the largest incident of avian influenza in a domestic flock in centralEurope and a resurgence of the disease. Europe had had no reported cases of avian flu since lastAugust.

The new UK case is the first recorded incident of H5N1 in the country's domestic stock. TheDepartment of the Environment, and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the strain found is similar to astrain that killed in geese in Hungary in January last year.

Defra said further tests were being done to characterise the virus so as to determine whether or not it is the Asian strain.Authorities are also attempting to determine how the virus was transmitted to the domestic flock.

The UK's veterinary service has enforced a protection zone of three kilometres radius and a surveillancezone of 10 kilometres around the premises where movement restrictions will be imposed and poultry must be isolated from wild birds. The farm itself has been under restrictions since Thursday evening.

Japan has already suspended imports of UK poultry as part of that country's standard procedure tocurb the spread of the disease.

While no human case of the H5N1 virus has occurred in the EU, scientists worldwide have beenworried that the virus may mutate so that it can be transmitted from human to human and start ainfluenza pandemic. Wild birds are the transmission route of the virus to domestic poultry.

Previous outbreaks of H5N1 have occurred in domestic poultry in France, Sweden,Germany and Denmark. Meanwhile Spain, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France,Slovakia, Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic and the UK last year report cases of avianinfluenza H5N1 in wild birds.

At the start of last year four people died in Turkey from catching the H1N5form of the virus from their domestic poultry flock.

Outbreaks of bird flu virus H5N1 led Europe's poultry industry to suffer rapid drops inconsumption of up to 70 per cent in Italy and 10 per cent in northern Europe generally at the startof 2006. Consumer fears pushed down prices as a poultry supply glut grew.

The UK's poultry industry has annual sales of about £3.4bn.

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