Race is on to vaccinate all poultry workers

HEALTH officials are frantically attempting to vaccinate all poultry workers in Scotland against seasonal human flu following the discovery of the deadly bird flu virus in a swan in Fife.

Experts believe that giving the seasonal flu jabs to those most likely to be exposed to the H5N1 bird flu virus in the event that it spreads around the country will help to prevent it from mutating into a human pandemic strain.

Last week health boards sent letters to all poultry firms and workers in Scotland advising them to visit their local GP to get a vaccination injection.

And public health bosses have contacted the health authorities to ensure the vaccination procedures are in place.

Jim McMenamin, a consultant at Health Protection Scotland, said: "We have asked that the vaccination be made available either through a firm's occupation health unit or through GPs. The Scottish Executive has made arrangements with the industry to ensure all workers in the poultry industry can be contacted.

"While this vaccine will not offer any protection against the H5N1 virus, it should help protect against the potential re-assortment of the bird flu virus into a pandemic strain by mixing with human influenza viruses. It is a precautionary measure."

Key groups which are being targeted include those who work in poultry units with 50 or more birds, as well as vets or researchers and those involved with culling or disposing of dead birds at such units.

All bird owners in the 1.8-mile surveillance zone set up around Cellardyke, Fife, two weeks ago following the discovery of the H5N1 virus in a dead whooper swan, have also been offered the seasonal flu vaccine.

Health boards had been advised to vaccinate poultry workers by Scotland's Chief Medical Officer in March, but only two authorities had started the scheme by the time bird flu was discovered in Cellardyke.

NHS Greater Glasgow claimed it had started the vaccination programme earlier this month while NHS Fife started vaccinating workers as soon as the virus was identified in the swan.

The discovery of the H5N1 virus in the whooper swan sparked a desperate scrabble in the other health boards to identify those most at risk and obtain the necessary stocks to carry out the vaccinations. By last night all health boards had confirmed they had begun to offer the vaccine to eligible workers.

An Executive spokesperson said:

"Health Protection Scotland has been making sure they are taking action, and all health boards have now sent out letters to poultry workers in their areas to offer them the vaccine."

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