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Scientists hunt for source of UK avian influenza outbreak

Scientists are working to identify the source of an outbreak of avian influenza that has hit a turkey farm in the UK.

The news of the first ever outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in England follows recent confirmation of the deadly virus in Hungary and an apparent resur...
Scientists hunt for source of UK avian influenza outbreak
Scientists are working to identify the source of an outbreak of avian influenza that has hit a turkey farm in the UK.

The news of the first ever outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in England follows recent confirmation of the deadly virus in Hungary and an apparent resurgence of the disease in other parts of the world.

As the strain is similar to that found in Hungary, one theory is that it was spread by wild birds heading West. Until evidence of the source is found, scientists, farm workers and the UK authorities can however only speculate.

The EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, comprising veterinary experts, will meet on 6 February to discuss the disease situation and the measures to be taken.

In the meantime, the UK and Hungary were quick to implement EU legislation requiring strict controls on the movement of poultry in case of an outbreak and the setting up of a protective zone around the infected holding.

National governments from other EU Member States also took precautionary measures. Ireland has put its laboratories on alert, the Netherlands has announced increased protective measures, while France is assessing the risk for its poultry.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed that the H5N1 virus, although primarily affecting birds, can infect humans. Out of 271 confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 165 human deaths since 2003.

The first human death from avian flu in West Africa was also confirmed in recent days: a 22-year-old woman from Lagos, Nigeria, who died on 16 January.

Scientists are spilt on the question of whether or not the virus could mutate to create a pandemic strain that could kill people around the world.

Professor Koos Van der Velden, chairman of the European Influenza Surveillance Scheme, told The Independent newspaper: 'I sense the public is fed up with the all the warnings about H5N1, when they see the pandemic has not happened. But the threat is still there and the chances are higher that it will start in a part of the world which is most heavily populated and where the systems of government are weak.'

In a letter to the Guardian, Nobel prizewinners and campaigners, including Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein called for the elimination of large-scale intensive livestock farming which they argue is 'accelerating the development of new pandemic diseases'.

Source: European Commission; and news sources

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