First bird flu case may just be 'a one-off'

THE arrival of bird flu in Scotland may have been a "one-off" that failed to cause a significant outbreak of the deadly disease, the leading microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said yesterday.

With nine initial tests on dead birds proving negative and little sign of a virulent illness killing numerous wild birds in Fife, the world-renowned expert expressed the hope that the UK may not be facing a major outbreak that could lead to the mass culling of poultry flocks.

Professor Pennington told The Scotsman last night: "If there had been any kind of significant spread associated with that bird, if there had been any substantial activity of the virus, you would imagine there would be some evidence of that.

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"There would be carcasses around and there doesn't seem to be any sign of that. But clearly it will hinge on whether some of the tests come back positive or not.

"People are calling it an outbreak, but my definition of an outbreak is two or more cases. Strictly speaking it's not an outbreak. We'll have to see whether it is a genuine outbreak or just a one-off.

"There is no evidence of any significant excess mortality in local birds, so perhaps one can sit back and say, 'So far, so good'."

Preliminary reports suggest that the virus which killed the Cellardyke swan was identical to the "Baltic strain" of the virus, and so was likely brought to the UK from Germany. Andrew Farrar, a spokesman for the RSPB, said bird experts had been on high alert in the last month expecting just such a bird flu case from Germany.

"We thought we had dodged a bullet after the German outbreak. It's getting to the time when birds move north and away from the UK. Right at the last minute this swan appeared," he said.

Asked whether the bird's origin suggested whether the swan would likely be an isolated case or part of a larger cluster, the spokesman said: "It's impossible to tell.

" It's just a piece in the jigsaw and I'm afraid we just have to wait until the other pieces fall into place. This might be an isolated incident. It might not."

Meanwhile, a letter from Fife Council was hand-delivered to every home in Cellardyke yesterday, urging residents to take "sensible precautions", including keeping dogs on leads, cats indoors and not eating raw eggs.

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Signed by Douglas Sinclair, the councils's chief executive, the letter states that bird flu is highly unlikely to be passed from human to human.

But it urges a number of precautions. "If you have dogs it would be sensible to keep them on a lead when exercising them," it says.

And despite assurances from officials and egg producers that eggs are safe to eat, the letter also adds: "You should not eat raw eggs or use raw eggs in dishes that will not be cooked. Eggs should be cooked until the whites are solid."