November 25, 2013 at 11:52 pm #1380MikeKeymaster
in England – from bridget
More bird-flu stories!
To see this story with its related links on the The Observer site, go to
Lethal virus hit five days ago: now cull begins
As confirmation came that the Bernard Matthews birds had died from H5N1, a
strain of avian flu that can be fatal to humans, experts are left wondering how
it was introduced into a sealed shed on Holton farm
David Smith, Anushka Asthana, Robin McKie and Andy Young
Sunday February 04 2007
Square, steel gas chambers were delivered to Holton farm yesterday. All 159,000
turkeys at the hub of Bernard Matthews’s business empire were due to be placed
into crates, forklifted into the chambers and gassed to death.
Workers carrying out the slaughter near Halesworth, Suffolk, were offered avian
flu drugs such as Tamiflu and wore protective clothing. Their grim task started
after confirmation yesterday that the deaths of 2,500 birds there had been
caused by the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which can be fatal if passed on to
As a three-kilometre protection zone and 10km surveillance zone were set up
around Holton, the government attempted to calm fears over a threat to public
health, saying there was no risk from eating poultry.
The first signs of the virus emerged last Tuesday, when 71 chicks died. A
further 186 died the following day, 860 on Thursday and 1,500 on Friday.
Yesterday hundreds of white-feathered birds were being pushed into an
open-topped container by a tractor with a giant blue shovel. They were covered
with a tarpaulin cover and taken away for incineration shortly before 1pm.
Police cordoned off roads around the farm and adjoining processing plant. All
vehicles on the site were sprayed with disinfectant before being allowed to
leave. Production at the factory is thought to have stopped on Friday as fears
grew about the sudden death of hundreds of birds in a single shed. The farm, on
the site of a former Second World War airfield, has 22 turkey sheds. Only one
was affected, but all the birds will have to be culled.
Bernard Matthews informed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
about the dead birds on Thursday night. Preliminary tests late on Friday
confirmed bird flu, but it was only yesterday that further tests revealed the
H5N1 strain. It is the first case on a UK commercial farm of H5N1, which has
killed 164 people – most in south-east Asia – since 2003. The virus cannot pass
from human to human at present.
There was criticism yesterday that Matthews’s firm was too slow to act. Lillian
Foreman, 43, a local resident, said: ‘If turkeys started dying on the Tuesday,
why wasn’t Defra notified then?’
Matthews, 76, whose firm has a yearly turnover of £400m, was unavailable
for comment. Giles Read, of the PR company Hill and Knowlton, released a
statement on his behalf: ‘While Bernard Matthews can confirm that there has been
a case of H5N1 avian influenza at its Holton site, it is important to stress
that none of the affected birds has entered the food chain and there is no risk
The site employs mostly migrant workers, many Portuguese. One worker said:
‘Obviously we are concerned about our own health. Most of the people killed by
bird flu in Asia died after coming into contact with infected birds. Anyone who
catches a cold or gets a runny nose will be worried that they could be going
down with it. I just can’t work out how the infection got into one of the sheds
… nothing should be able to get in.’
The Health Protection Agency stressed that the risk to humans was negligible and
only an issue for those in direct contact with the birds. Maria Zambon of the
HPA said: ‘Bird flu does not transmit easily to humans. There is no confirmed
information whatsoever about transmission of bird flu through food.’
Defra has a register of all farms where more than 50 birds are kept and
yesterday contacted farmers in the Holton area to provide advice. A spokeswoman
said there could be a notice to bring all birds indoors, but emphasised that
free-range farms would keep their status as long as the confinement was less
than 12 weeks. Dr Andrew Landeg, the deputy chief veterinary officer, said: ‘We
will be asking people to house birds where they can. Where it is not practical,
they must provide food and water under covers.’
The key issue, experts said last night, is to find out as soon as possible how
the Holton turkeys became infected. Either the virus came from a nearby farm or
it was brought to the shed by a wild bird. However, as there have been no other
reports of flu outbreaks from other farms, it is assumed the virus was picked up
from a wild bird, a point stressed by Landeg. ‘All the signs are this is a
recent introduction of the disease,’ he said. ‘The birds originated in a
hatchery and have never been off-site. The likelihood is that this is a wild
It is a mystery how the virus reached the turkeys. The shed – like most
buildings in which turkeys are raised – is sealed. ‘The most probable
explanation is that excrement from an infected wild fowl somehow got into the
shed,’ said Dr Colin Butter, of the Institute of Animal Health. ‘Infected birds
produce excrement teeming with viruses. This can dry out and spread viruses.’
If wild birds – in particular, wild fowl such as swans, geese or ducks – were
responsible for the outbreak, it raises serious problems for British poultry
farmers. It is possible the virus-carrying bird was one of small number of
infected wildfowl now flying around Britain – but it is also possible that large
number of birds are already carrying the disease.
Butter added: ‘If it has already become widespread in wild birds and we are only
just finding out about this, it will be very difficult to shake off this disease
in poultry. It will become a persistent threat to farms – particularly
In such a scenario, it would be hard to stamp out the disease by culling: new
infections would keep appearing. The only solution then, say veterinary experts,
would be to begin widespread vaccination.
In the Netherlands, poultry are already vaccinated against H5N1. However, Landeg
was cautious about such an approach: ‘The trouble is that vaccines would have to
be administered to individual birds, and that is very time-consuming,’ he said.
He added that it takes about three weeks for a vaccine to produce effective
‘On the other hand,’ said Butter, ‘it may be that only a small number of wild
birds are currently affected, in which case we should be able to contain the
disease by trying to stamp it out, as is being done at Holton. One thing is
clear, however: we are going to have find out how widespread H5N1 is among the
wildfowl of Britain very quickly.’ A number of expert ornithologists have been
called in to the area by Defra.
As for the dangers to humans, most experts remain cautiously confident. Although
there have now been more than 150 human fatalities from H5N1 around the world,
virtually all of them have been in south east Asia. The closest to the European
Union’s borders were the deaths of a brother and sister on an infected farm in
eastern Turkey in January last year. The deaths involved in all these cases were
caused by people having very close contact with infected birds. There is no
suggestion that this has occurred at Holton, or that any farm workers have been
The real risk from bird flu remains that of a pandemic arising in Asia when an
H5N1-infected human also contracts a normal dose of flu and acts as a ‘crucible’
in which a mutated version of H5N1 evolves – one that can affect other human
beings and that is as pathogenic as H5N1.
The spread of H5N1
Dec 2003 An outbreak of the bird flu virus H5N1 in South Korea leads to a mass
cull of poultry. It’s reported the bug has jumped to humans, killing people in
Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.
Nov 2004 World Health Organisation warns the virus could spark a pandemic,
putting millions of lives at risk.
March 2005 UK begins to stockpile the antiviral drug Tamiflu
Sept-Nov 2005 A quarantine centre in Essex reports exotic birds dying from avian
flu-like symptoms. The lethal H5N1 is contained successfully.
March 2006 Scots authorities alerted to a dead swan found in Fife. Officials
find the bird was carrying a virus.
April 2006 Chickens in Norfolk feared to have H7 flu – less risky to humans than
H5N1 – and 35,000 are slaughtered.
June 2006 The EU gives farmers up to €65m in aid to cope with bird flu.
February 2007 Outbreak of H5N1 at Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk.
Copyright Guardian News and Media Limited
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