Scots farmers told to be on guard against bird flu

Defra officials investigate the outbreak at a duck farm in Nafferton, East Yorkshire. Picture: Reuters
Defra officials investigate the outbreak at a duck farm in Nafferton, East Yorkshire. Picture: Reuters
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SCOTTISH poultry farmers have been warned to be extra vigilant following the outbreak of avian flu in East Yorkshire.

As a cull of ducks got under way yesterday, Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said that, while the risk to the public remained low, farmers in Scotland had to be on their guard for cases developing among their flocks.

The outbreak at a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire is the first serious case in the UK since 2008. Government vets confirmed the strain of bird flu found at the Yorkshire farm is H5N8, the same as seen in recent outbreaks in the Netherlands.

However, officials reassured the public that it was not the H5N1 strain, which can be transmitted to humans and which has killed hundreds of people across the world.

The H5N8 strain is very dangerous for birdlife and could potentially affect humans, although only through very close contact with infected birds. Yesterday around 6,000 ducks were culled at the farm in Nafferton, near Driffield.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokeswoman said: “The cull to prevent the spread of potential infection is being carried out in a safe and humane manner by fully trained staff. Our response to this outbreak follows tried and tested procedures for dealing with avian flu outbreaks and we expect the cull to be completed later today.

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“Additionally, our animal health laboratory at Weybridge has confirmed that the outbreak of avian influenza in East Yorkshire is the H5N8 strain. The advice from the chief medical officer and Public Health England remains that the risk to public health is very low. The Food Standards Agency have said there is no food safety risk for consumers.”

Yesterday, Mr Lochhead said: “My officials have been liaising closely with Defra, who have made it clear the public health risk is very low.”

The cull at the farm owned by the UK’s largest producer of duck and duck products, Cherry Valley, comes after the transport of poultry and eggs throughout the Netherlands was banned following the H5N8 outbreak in Utrecht. Experts have warned further outbreaks could soon emerge. Officials are looking into how the virus reached East Yorkshire, including whether it could be the result of commercial transport of birds, or carried by wild birds.

The Yorkshire outbreak is the first serious case of bird flu since 2008, when the H7N7 strand was found in free-range laying hens near Banbury, Oxfordshire. Most types of bird flu are harmless to humans but H5N1 and H7N9 have caused concerns.Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said the Cherry Valley farm at the centre of the alert had good bio-security in place, and as a result the risk of spread is “probably quite low”.

But he warned more cases could follow and, because of the risk of wild birds spreading the disease, urged farmers and their vets all over the UK to be alert to the possibility of disease.

Yesterday, chief veterinary officer for Scotland Sheila Voas said: “As always, all poultry keepers should continue their efforts to maintain high levels of bio-security and monitor their birds for any signs of disease. Avian influenza is a notifiable disease, and so any suspicion should be reported immediately to the nearest animal health office.

“The public are asked to report any such incidents. Scottish Government advice is not to handle dead wild birds.”

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