Bird flu confirmed at Yorkshire duck farm

Government scientists are examining samples from an outbreak of avian flu detected on a duck farm in Yorkshire to see if it is connected to the discovery at the weekend of a highly contagious strain of bird flu in chickens in the Netherlands.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said on Monday that a form of avian flu had been confirmed at the farm in the Driffield area of east Yorkshire. Around 6,000 ducks will be killed.

A Defra spokesman said the virus has been confirmed as a form of the H5 type of avian flu, but that it was not the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, which has caused intermittent worldwide alarm and can often be fatal if caught by humans. Confirmation of the virus type is expected early this week.

Dutch authorities said on Sunday that the H5N8 strain, which has never been detected in humans but has caused the mass slaughter of birds in Asia, had been detected among chickens at an egg farm in the village of Hekendorp in the central Netherlands.

Scientists at the Animal and Plant Health Agency laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, are liaising with their Dutch counterparts to see if there is a connection, Defra says. A spokesman said: “The experts in the laboratory at Weybridge are in close contact with the experts in Holland and are investigating that.”

The government’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, told the BBCthat the bird flu in the Netherlands was “our most likely source” for the Yorkshire outbreak, which was in part why there was minimal fear for human health.

He said: “The people dealing with the birds directly, that’s the highest risk, and we’ll be working to make sure that they’re protected with proper hygiene precautions as they’re handling the birds.

“The main focus is to protect our bird flock rather than any risk to public health.”

In a separate statement Defra said it hoped to contain the Yorkshire outbreak: “We have confirmed a case of avian flu on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire – the public health risk is very low and there is no risk to the food chain.

“We are taking immediate and robust action which includes introducing a 10km restriction zone and culling all poultry on the farm to prevent any potential spread of infection. A detailed investigation is ongoing.

“We have a strong track record of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK.”

Public Health England said it was assisting Defra in the investigation, adding: “Based on what we know about this specific strain of avian influenza the risk to human health in this case is considered extremely low.”

Officials in the Netherlands have begun killing 150,000 chickens in an attempt to halt the outbreak, also imposing a 72-hour ban on transportation of poultry products, including birds, eggs, dung and used straw. The Netherlands is the world’s leading egg exporter.

The same strain, H5N8, was reported earlier this month in north-east Germany, and has prompted a mass slaughter of birds in South Korea.

While 10,000 chickens were destroyed in March after bird flu was found at a farm in the eastern Dutch province of Gelderland, the country has not had any cases of the highly contagious H5 or H7 strains in the past 10 years, according to data from the World Organisation for Animal Health.

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