Bird-to-human transmission of bird flu confirmed in South West

Poultry keepers have been put on alert over a strain of bird flu.

Bird-to-human transmission of bird flu is 'extremely rare', the UKHSA says - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

A case of bird flu has been confirmed in a person in the South West.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed the case of avian influenza today (January 6) but says the risk to the public remains 'very low'.

Bird-to-human transmission of avian flu is very rare and has only occurred a small number of times in the UK previously.

The person acquired the infection from very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time, the UKHSA said, although it did not confirm more precise details of the location of the case.

All contacts of the individual, including those who visited the premises, have been traced and there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else. The individual is currently well and self-isolating, a UKHSA spokesperson added.

"The risk to the wider public from avian flu continues to be very low. However, people should not touch sick or dead birds," they said.

What is bird flu?

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Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is a type of influenza that spreads among birds.

The UK has recently seen a large number of outbreaks and incidents of avian influenza in birds across the country of the H5N1 strain and APHA and the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer have issued alerts to bird owners.

Some strains of bird flu can pass from birds to people, but this is extremely rare. It usually requires close contact with an infected bird, so the risk to humans is generally considered very low.

Human to human transmission of bird flu is very rare.

How was this case detected?

The case was detected after the Animal and Plant health Agency (APHA) identified an outbreak of outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in their flock of birds.

Their infection was identified through the routine monitoring which is conducted on anyone who has close contact with infected birds. The infected birds have all been culled.

In line with the highly precautionary approach UKHSA takes to identifying and stopping the transmission of avian flu, UKHSA swabbed this person and detected low levels of flu.

Further laboratory analysis revealed that the virus was the ‘H5’ type, found in birds. At this point it has not been possible to confirm that this is a H5N1 infection (the strain that is currently circulating in birds in the UK).

Based on the available evidence, the World Health Organisation has been notified.

This is the first human case of this strain in the UK, although there have been cases elsewhere globally.

What do the experts say?

Professor Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at the UK Health Security Agency, said: “While the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low, we know that some strains do have the potential to spread to humans and that’s why we have robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.

"Currently there is no evidence that this strain detected in the UK can spread from person to person, but we know that viruses evolve all the time and we continue to monitor the situation closely.

"We have followed up all of this individual’s contacts and have not identified any onward spread.

“It remains critical that people do not touch sick or dead birds, and that they follow the DEFRA advice about reporting.”

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, said: “While avian influenza is highly contagious in birds, this is a very rare event and is very specific to the circumstances on this premises.

“We took swift action to limit the spread of the disease at the site in question, all infected birds have been humanely culled, and cleansing and disinfection of the premises is underway.

"This is a reminder that stringent cleanliness when keeping animals is important.

“We are seeing a growing number of cases in birds on both commercial farms and in backyard flocks across the country. Implementing scrupulous biosecurity measures will help keep your birds safe.”