Is there a UK bird flu outbreak? Two human cases confirmed as millions of birds culled, what are the symptoms

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The largest outbreak of avian flu on record has seen 48 million birds culled across the UK and the EU in the last year

There have been two confirmed cases of bird flu in the UK.

Both cases have been confirmed in Anglesey, after the first case was discovered on 16 October.

Around 48 million birds have been culled across the UK and the EU in the last year as a result of the latest and largest outbreak of bird flu on record.

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Farmers from Norway’s Svalbard islands to southern Portugal have together reported almost 2,500 outbreaks of the disease since last year.

Outbreaks have also been detected in wild birds, according to EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the virus is killing huge numbers of breeding colonies of sea birds on the north Atlantic coast.

A bird flu outbreak has been confirmed at a turkey fattening site in North YorkshireA bird flu outbreak has been confirmed at a turkey fattening site in North Yorkshire
A bird flu outbreak has been confirmed at a turkey fattening site in North Yorkshire

How is Bird Flu affecting the UK?

In the UK, 161 cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were detected in poultry and captive birds in the past year, which led to the culling of 3.2 million birds. This compares to just 26 cases in 2020/2021.

The UK government said the culled birds were a “small proportion” of total production, which is around 20 million birds per week.

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The UK’s wild bird population has also been affected, with 1,727 cases detected in 406 locations involving 59 bird species.

Previous years have seen the virus mostly die out during the summer months, but this outbreak has persisted all year round and has easily spread among bird populations.

Where in the UK is Bird Flu spreading? 

Bird Flu has been detected at 155 sites across the UK and Avian Influenza Prevention Zones (AIPZ) have been introduced in Norfolk, Suffolk, parts of Essex and the whole of the South West of England.

But two cases of Bird flu has been confirmed at a site in Wales.

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The first presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 was confirmed by interim chief veterinary officer Gavin Watkins in poultry at a site in Anglesey.

A 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone have been declared around the infected premises to limit the risk of disease spread, the Government said.

Bird movements and gatherings are restricted within these zones and all holdings that keep birds must be declared, the Government added.

Bird keepers have been urged to remain vigilant and ensure they have high levels of biosecurity in place.

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Farmers are advised to consult a vet in the first instance if birds become unwell, and if avian influenza is suspected it must legally be reported to the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

The latest bird flu figures covering both Europe and the UK, which track outbreaks from October 2021 to 9 September 2022, were published on Monday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the EU Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza.

What is bird flu and can it affect humans? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says bird flu is caused by an infection with avian and Type A influenza viruses. This virus is spread among wild aquatic birds and can affect domestic poultry.

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  • H5N1 (since 1997)
  • H7N9 (since 2013)
  • H5N6 (since 2014)
  • H5N8 (since 2016)

H5N8 and H5N1 bird flu have been found in some poultry, other captive birds and wild birds in the UK.

H5N6 has also been found in some wild birds in the UK, but this is a different strain from the H5N6 virus that has infected some people in China.

Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive).

Although avian and Type A influenza viruses usually do not infect people, there have been some rare cases of human infection with these viruses., according to the CDC. Asian lineage H7N9 and highly pathogenic avian influenza Asian lineage H5N1 viruses have been responsible for most human illness from bird flu viruses worldwide to date, including the most serious illnesses and illness with the highest mortality.

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What are the symptoms of bird flu?

The main symptoms of bird flu can appear very quickly and include:

  • a very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
  • aching muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath

Other early symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea
  • sickness
  • stomach pain
  • chest pain
  • bleeding from the nose and gums
  • conjunctivitis

It usually takes 3 to 5 days for the first symptoms to appear after you’ve been infected but it is recommended to get treatment quickly if you experience any symptoms of bird flu and have visited an area affected by bird flu in the past 10 days.

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