Bird flu pandemic – – 02/04/2007

  • November 25, 2013 at 11:52 pm #1380

    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
    The Observer

    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
    to consumers.’

    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
    bird introduction.’

    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
    free-range units.’

    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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