Britain Culls 159,000 Turkeys in Outbreak of H5N1 Bird Flu
LONDON, UK, February 5, 2007 (ENS) - Britain's first case of H5N1 avian influenza has been confirmed by government veterinarians. At least 2,500 turkeys died of the disease last week at a farm in Suffolk.
The Bernard Matthews farm near Upper Holton held 159,000 turkeys housed in 22 sheds, all of which have now been culled to prevent further spread of the highly pathogenic disease.
David Miliband, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Defra, told the House of Commons today, "At this stage, we do not know how this disease arrived in Suffolk. A full epidemiological report will be produced by our experts as soon as possible and made publicly available."
This is the viral strain that has been responsible for 271 human cases of bird flu worldwide and a total of 165 deaths. In addition, hundreds of millions of chickens, ducks and turkeys have been killed by the disease or culled to prevent its spread.
The first sign of the outbreak occured last Tuesday when 55 turkey chicks died and 16 had to be killed because they were sick. At least 185 more died the following day.
The outbreak came to the attention of the government Thursday evening when the farm manager reported to Defra that deaths were taking place in one shed, which contained 7,000 birds, beyond the normal frequency and rate.
Defra immediately enforced legal restrictions on the farm so that no birds, people or equipment could move off those premises, preventing any possible spread of the disease.
The State Veterinary Service is enforcing a Protection Zone of three kilometers (two miles) and a Surveillance Zone of 10 km (six miles) around the premises where movement restrictions will be imposed and poultry must be isolated from wild birds.
Defra has imposed a wider Restricted Zone covering East Suffolk and South East Norfolk, an area of 2,090 square kilometers where poultry and other captive birds must be housed or, if that is not possible, isolated from contact with wild birds.
On the infected premises, the humane slaughter of all the remaining birds began on Saturday under the supervision of the State Veterinary Service, once the Health Protection Agency had issued medication and protective clothing to all workers.
Defra's Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg confirmed that at eight o'clock this evening the culling operation was completed. He said, "I am thankful for the efforts of all involved in the culling operation and the swiftness with which this large process was carried out."
The carcasses are being transported under escort in sealed leak-proof trucks to a plant in Staffordshire where they are being rendered. The left over material from the rendering of the birds is then incinerated to ensure total destruction. There is full protection for workers at the site and for the general public in the surrounding area, Miliband said.
Bernard Matthews is a food processing company headquartered in Norwich, Norfolk, with 57 farms throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire. They produce and market turkey and other poultry and fish products.
Bernard Matthews raises eight million turkeys every year in the UK, feeding them a vegetarian diet of non-GM crops from the company's feed mills, a policy that was adopted in March 2001 after pressure from consumer groups and Greenpeace.
All bird gatherings - including shows, markets and fairs, and pigeon races - have been banned throughout England, Scotland and Wales until further notice.
Landeg urged keepers of birds "to be vigilant, to take care if handling birds which appear to be unwell and to observe high levels of biosecurity."
Owners who suspect disease, should quickly consult their vet. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease and must be reported to the local Divisional Veterinary Manager in the State Veterinary Service.
"There is no reason for public health concern," Landeg said. "Avian influenza is a disease of birds and whilst it can pass very rarely and with difficulty, to humans, this requires extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly feces."
The Health Protection Agency has advised that, despite this incident, the current level of risk to humans from H5N1 remains extremely low.
The UK has become Europe's third country infected by H5N1 during the current winter season. Outbreaks have been reported in Hungary on January 24 and in Krasnodar, Russia on January 29.
Targeted surveillance for high pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and other avian influenza viruses in wild birds is in place throughout the UK and is ongoing. Defra advises people who find dead wild gulls, waders, ducks, geese or swans and within a survey area to contact the Defra Helpline at: 08459 33 55 77 and choose the Avian Influenza option. To visit the bird flu section of the Defra website click here.