TENS of thousands of birds have been culled after a case of “highly pathogenic” avian flu was confirmed at a poultry farm.
The contagious H7N7 strain of the virus was first suspected on Friday at a farm in Goos-nargh, near Preston, Lancashire, owned by family business Staveley’s Eggs.
Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed a 10km surveillance zone and an inner 3km protection zone had been set up around the farm, and the culling of 170,000 birds at the farm was ongoing.
This strain of bird flu can infect people, but the risk to public health is very low, according to Professor Paul Digard, a leading virologist at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute.
He said: “Every strain of flu is different, but going from previous experiences, there is no reason to be particularly concerned about this outbreak.
“The people who have to be careful are the ones who are culling the poulty and dealing with the clear-up.” The strain is highly pathogenic, which means it is highly contagious in flocks and can cause deaths in birds but it is different to the H5N1 strain which caused hundreds of deaths worldwide.
Prof Digard said: “It is most likely the way this would be spread is by people, by infected materials being carried on clothing or shoes.
“It will probably have come in as a low pathogenic version carried by wild birds, which then passed on to the chickens.
“The general public isn’t really at risk from this, but if you have poulty nearby then you will need to make sure your bio-security is in place.”
Poultry farmers within the 10km zone around the infected premises are not allowed to move poultry, captive birds or other mammals except under licence as a result of the restrictions imposed on Friday when the outbreak was suspected.
Nigel Gibbens, UK chief veterinary officer, said: “These actions are part of our tried and tested approach to dealing with previous outbreaks.
“Bird keepers should remain alert for any signs of disease, report suspect disease to their nearest APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) office immediately and ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises.”
The Food Standards Agency said there was no food safety risk for consumers.
Dr Colin Butter, head of avian viral immunology at the Pirbright Institute in Surrey, a world-leading centre for viral diseases in farm animals, said: “In addition to dealing with the immediate problem, the important issues are now to determine the exact molecular sequence (the genetic fingerprint) of the virus and to trace contacts between this farm and other poultry facilities.
“In this way, the likely source of the virus can be determined and its further spread limited or eliminated.”
While the disease can cause severe illness or death, the normal outcome of the infection is much milder, with symptoms similar to the eye infection conjunctivitis, Dr Butter said.