Chicken Cull After Suffolk Bird Flu Outbreak

Nicky Broyd

December 11, 2019

Twenty-seven thousand chickens are being culled on a farm in Suffolk after avian influenza was confirmed there. A 1km restricted zone has been put in place around the farm.

Public Health England (PHE) said in a statement: "Low pathogenic avian influenza of the H5 strain was confirmed at a commercial chicken farm in Mid Suffolk on 10th December 2019. All birds on the premises will be humanely culled."

This is the first bird flu outbreak in the UK since June 2017.

Pre-Christmas Consumer Concerns

The source of the outbreak is being investigated and bird keepers are being asked to maintain good biosecurity, watch for any signs of bird flu, and report suspected disease straight away.

PHE is reassuring the public about the very low-risk to humans. At a time when Christmas meals are being planned it said: "Thoroughly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat."

Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss, said: "Public Health England has confirmed that the risk to public health is very low and the Food Standards Agency has said that bird flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.

"We are urgently looking for any evidence of disease spread associated with this strain to control and eliminate it."

Dr Gavin Dabrera, PHE public health consultant, said: "As a precaution, we are offering public health advice and antivirals to those who had contact with the affected birds, as is standard practice."

Low Pathogenicity

Experts have been reacting via the Science Media Centre. Prof Paul Wigley, professor of avian infection and immunity, University of Liverpool, said: "Avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ is not a common disease in the UK. The current outbreak is of a low pathogenicity or LPAI type which leads to symptoms including respiratory distress and diarrhoea in chickens. The virus can spread around flocks through respiratory secretions or faeces. 

"LPAI may infrequently cause human infections causing problems like conjunctivitis but unlike High Pathogenicity or HPAI are not usually associated with human influenza."

Prof Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology, University of Nottingham, said: "Over the past few years we’ve seen sporadic outbreaks of avian influenza in various parts of the UK. Usually these have been influenza strains that are deemed to be low pathogenic viruses, as is the case here – in other words viruses that are not associated with very serious symptoms in the domestic birds in which they’ve been found.

"Whilst in other parts of the world we have seen cases of so-called ‘bird-flu’ strains jumping into humans, this is a rare event and hasn’t been seen in the UK, so the risk to human health is very low."

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