Leaders: No need for panic over bird flu outbreak

Craigies Poultry Farm near Dunfermline. Picture: PA
Craigies Poultry Farm near Dunfermline. Picture: PA
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The news that bird flu has been identified on a farm in Fife is worrying. Yet, there is no need for panic. The chance that the illness being found in one farm could mean a wider outbreak is low.

The news that bird flu has been identified on a farm in Fife is worrying. Yet, there is no need for panic. The chance that the illness being found in one farm could mean a wider outbreak is low.

It is now known that the strain of virus found in a farm near Dunfermline is a “very mild strain” of H5N1 avian influenza with the risk to human health considered “very low”.

All the same, it sparks inevitable reminders of March 2006, when a swan in Cellardyke, Fife, was found dead from the H5N1 virus, sparking fears of an epidemic of the flu which could spread to humans.

The same strain was found almost a year later at a turkey farm in Suffolk.

These are not the only cases where the authorities stepped in, but precautions were taken and the virus ran its course, fizzling out without passing from birds to people.

Earlier this year, a case of the H7N7 strain was found on a poultry farm in Lancashire, while a few months earlier, a “low severity” H7 strain of the disease was found in Hampshire. A more worrying H5N8 strain was found at a Yorkshire duck farm in November 2014. All ended the same way.

However, we must not be complacent.

China is already attempting to tackle an outbreak of the more deadly H7N9 variety of the virus which has spread to humans, causing hundreds of deaths. According to the World Health Organisation, 667 cases and 229 deaths from the H7N9 strain of the flu have been reported globally from March 2013 – when the virus began to spread to humans from infected poultry – to 14 October 2015, most from the mainland of China.

However, the Fife case should give us no undue cause for concern at the moment.

Chief Veterinary Officer Sheila Voas has said all the evidence so far suggests strain which is not the same as that has been causing problems in Asia and north Africa.

Precautions are already being implemented. A 1km exclusion zone has been put in place around the farm, while up to 40,000 birds are scheduled to be culled to stop the spread of the virus.

Staff at the farm were spotted this morning wearing protective clothing as they worked in the chicken sheds, in the hopes of ensuring human health is not put at risk.

There is no doubt that the authorities are taking the right steps, but everyone who keeps chickens from allotments holders to big business has to do their bit just now.

The Scottish Government yesterday warned that those who keep chickens at home should be particularly vigilant to look for symptoms of the illness, as the biosecurity around domestic chicken flocks is likely to be less secure.

But perhaps more worrying than the likelihood of a human outbreak of the illness is the effect that the disease could have on the poultry industry.

For Craigies Poultry Farm alone, a cull of 40,000 birds could have a severe economic impact, so we must hope that no other farms are affected, and that Craigies is able to deal with the blow the best it can.

Bowie, a man of contradictions

It would be interesting to know what the young David Bowie – the ultimate outsider – would have made of the outpouring of grief sparked by yesterday’s sad news that he had died of cancer at the age of 69.

Tributes were proffered by no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prime Minister David Cameron – among countless grieving fans and music industry colleagues – putting Bowie firmly into the Establishment which he spent the early part of his life shaking up. Bowie himself, however, was always contradictory to the core.

He said himself that he had a “compulsion to flout moral codes” and regularly toyed with the idea of his sexuality – particularly in terms of his theatrical performances including his appearances as alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

However, he was also a firm family man. He was married to model Iman for 24 years and the couple had a daughter together. Their relationship appeared to be close right up to the end, when Iman yesterday released a touching tribute to her husband.

Tellingly, she has previously referred to him by his non-stage name, saying in an interview that she had fallen “in love with David Jones. I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona”.

Yet Bowie was a showman at heart. The last music video he released, for his new album, Blackstar, just days before his death, hinted at the end of his life through endless symbolism and images and only now makes sense.

We may never get to the bottom of Bowie’s contradictions and who he actually was, but that is part of the enduring appeal of a star who has touched the hearts and lives of so many.