09 December 2021

‘Phenomenal level’ of bird flu in UK, chief vet says after thousands culled

09 December 2021

The UK’s chief vet has reportedly said there is a “phenomenal level” of bird flu in the country following the culling of tens of thousands of farmed birds.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared across the UK on November 3 before being extended on November 29 with the added requirement all captive birds had to be kept indoors, amid concerns that wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter are carrying the disease.

There are 40 infected premises in the UK, according to UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss.

We can't wait until another year and have an even bigger outbreak

The risk to human health from avian influenza remains very low, according to public health advice, and there is a low food safety risk.

Dr Middlemiss told the BBC the “phenomenal level” of bird flu has “huge human, animal and trade implications”.

She said the disease is being spread by migratory birds flying back from the north of Russia and eastern Europe, and insisted further research is needed to prevent a worsening outbreak in the future.

“We can’t wait until another year and have an even bigger outbreak. So, we will be working not just with our own scientists but internationally, to understand more of what we can do about what’s behind it,” Dr Middlemiss told the broadcaster.

The vet warned the UK is only a few weeks into a migratory season that goes on until March.

“We are going to need to keep up these levels of heightened biosecurity for all that time,” she said.

Dr Middlemiss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there are 40 infected premises in the UK – 38 in Great Britain including 33 in England, adding that around half a million birds have been culled so far.

The protection zone means that, in addition to keeping birds and poultry housed, keepers must continue to take precautions such as regularly cleaning and disinfecting clothing, equipment and vehicles and limiting access to non-essential workers and visitors.

Defra has said the new housing measures will be kept under regular review.

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