Avian Flu reaches Britain, quarantine measures set

3 Dec 2020

In November, the first cases of avian flu were detected in the UK prompting the government to set up biosecure prevention zones across England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the number of cases has continued to increase in both domestic and wild populations of fowl.

Avian flu is a virulent virus that is highly contagious for birds, and this bout of the illness has moved particularly quickly across Europe after experts first identified the latest H5N8 strain this summer in Russia where cases of the malady were especially high. Over the last few months, the disease has spread across Europe as wild birds have migrated westward for winter with hundreds of thousands of deaths recorded in Germany and the Netherlands due to both illness and farmers culling their flocks as a preventative measure. At the beginning of November, only a handful of cases were recorded in the UK, but The Guardian recently reported that the outbreak continues to spread.

Avian Flu reaches Britain, quarantine measures set

Most recently, wild swans were cited as suffering from this virus with nearly three dozen of these birds found dead or dying in late November. Those that were still alive were found spinning in circles and discharging blood from their nostrils.

This rapid proliferation of avian flu has prompted concern from both the chicken industry and the British government that this disease will wipe out poultry en masse this winter. On Nov. 27, The Guardian reported that cases in captive fowl were reported in Kent, Cheshire, Leicestershire and Herefordshire.

To help curb this outbreak, the government has implemented strict quarantine measures for those who are breeding captive birds. While birds may still be raised outdoors, farmers are now required to restrict access for non-essential people, eliminate wild bird food sources and oblige workers to change clothes and disinfect footwear following work. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that those who do not comply may face unlimited fines and three months in prison.

The last epidemic of avian flu was in 2016 when the virus traveled from the same area in Russia to Northern and Western Europe causing farmers to cull hundreds of thousands of birds in an effort to stop the spread. While measures to reduce the number of birds in a flock have not yet been implemented, Defra is working with farmers to help offset some of the costs incurred as part of these mitigation strategies.

Although the virus is highly contagious for birds, Public Health England said that the risk to human health is low. The government health authority said properly cooked poultry and poultry products including eggs pose no danger.

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