England reports first H5N1 poultry outbreak

Feb 5, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Government veterinarians confirmed an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza at a large turkey farm in Suffolk, England, 2 days ago, marking the country's first poultry outbreak and Europe's second in 2007.

A World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) report posted the day before yesterday said the outbreak began Jan 27 and affected 2,500 turkeys that were being raised for meat production. The farm, about 70 miles northeast of London, is owned by Bernard Matthews Holdings, Ltd., Europe's largest poultry producer, Bloomberg News reported today. The farm is the largest plant operated by the company; only 1 of 22 turkey sheds was affected by the outbreak, the Bloomberg report said.

The H5N1 strain found on the farm is similar to an Asian one detected on a goose farm in southeastern Hungary in late January, England's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a news release.

Workers have been offered antiviral medications, Bloomberg reported, and all had been offered the seasonal flu vaccine last year.

Authorities initially established a 3-km restricted zone and a 10-km surveillance zone around the farm but later widened the restricted zone after consulting with ornithologists, according to a DEFRA press release. The agency also banned all bird gatherings, including shows, markets, fairs, and pigeon races, until further notice.

Agriculture authorities are culling 150,000 turkeys at the farm, Reuters reported today.

The H5N1 outbreak is the first within English borders, though a series of avian flu events in the past few years have kept the country on high alert for the disease. In September 2005, H5N1 avian influenza was detected in a shipment of finches that was quarantined in Sussex upon import from Taiwan. In March 2006 a dead mute swan that tested positive for H5N1 washed up on a Scottish shore. In April 2006 a low pathogenic form of H7N3 avian influenza struck three English farms, which led to the culling of 50,000 poultry.

Nigel Dimmock, a virologist at Warwick University, told Reuters today that the source of infection could be one of several possibilities. Though an infected wild bird seems likely, the turkeys struck by the outbreak were kept indoors and had limited contact with wild birds, he said. Dimmock told Reuters that other possibilities include human spread of the virus into Britain—for example, on footwear, or the birds may have been fed infected material that contained the virus.

Europe may see more H5N1 outbreaks in poultry this year, but the situation is not as bad as in 2006, Bernard Vallat, head of the OIE, told Reuters today. "We're not finding dead wild birds. The wild bird population may be infected, but in a way that is extremely different to last year," he told the news service.

In other avian flu news, Egypt's health ministry announced today announced that a 17-year-old girl died of H5N1 avian influenza, Reuters reported today. The girl is from Fayyoum province about 60 miles south of Cairo, according to MENA, Egypt's state news agency. Few details were available about the girl's death. If her death is confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), she will become Egypt's 20th case and its 12th death. She is the country's second avian flu case and death in 2007.

Meanwhile, the WHO confirmed 2 days ago that a 22-year-old woman from Nigeria died of H5N1 avian flu. Her death from the disease, Nigeria's first, had previously been confirmed by the Nigerian health ministry.

The WHO said further investigations are under way to identify the source of her infection. Earlier reports said the woman, from Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, had helped slaughter infected poultry and died on Jan 17. Samples from the woman's contacts were negative, the WHO said.

In Japan, agriculture ministry officials the day before yesterday confirmed another poultry outbreak in Miyazaki prefecture, Reuters reported. The outbreak is western Japan's fourth such outbreak in recent weeks. Two other outbreaks had previously been reported in Miyazaki prefecture, while the third occurred at a farm in Okayama prefecture.

See also:

Feb 3 OIE report

Feb 3 WHO statement

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