Vigilance plea after swine flu outbreak

FARMERS are being warned to be extra vigilant against animal disease following the first outbreak of swine flu on a British poultry farm.

Routine inspections carried out on a turkey farm near Cheshire detected the N1N1 strain in some of the birds, similar to the H1N1 strain currently circulating amongst humans in the UK.

Further investigations by the Health Protection Agency concluded there was no public health risk and restrictions have since been lifted on the farm in question.

Nonetheless, farmers have been urged to remain on their guard against disease outbreaks, particularly when it comes to biosecurity.

The National Farmers' Union poultry adviser for the north west, Aarun Naik, said: "It is important to remember that H1N1 is not a notifiable disease in poultry. There is no food safety risk as evidence shows H1N1 cannot be passed to people eating properly handled and cooked poultry meat, products and eggs.

"As a matter of course, the NFU always advises farmers to observe strict standards of biosecurity, and urges them to remain vigilant against disease."

A statement from Defra sought to calm the public but also urged vigilance on the matter from both farmers and consumers.

A spokesman said: "The Health Protection Agency has undertaken a thorough public health risk assessment and can confirm there is no risk to public health.

"This finding has resulted from a routine notifiable avian disease investigation relating to a small number of turkeys showing mild signs of disease. During the investigation there was clinical improvement in these birds.

"Results of laboratory tests show that statutory notifiable avian disease – where the government would need to take animal health action – can be ruled out. Restrictions have been lifted on the farm.

"There is no food safety risk. Pandemic H1N1, in common with avian influenza, has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and cooked poultry meat, products and eggs.

"Bird keepers should continue to maintain appropriate biosecurity measures and be vigilant for signs of notifiable avian disease and report any suspicion promptly to the Animal Health agency."

So far the pandemic of H1N1 has been confirmed in poultry in other countries, with outbreaks having been verified by officials in the USA, Canada, Chile and France.

So-called influenza viruses have been shown to infect a great variety of birds and in poultry it can be found in two clinical forms, those of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI).

The former leads to serious disease in almost all poultry species resulting in large numbers of deaths. It is caused by some viruses of H5 or H7 subtypes. However, Defra said public health officials in Britain routinely carry out surveillance of avian influenza in domestic poultry throughout UK farms. Inspections are also carried out on wild birds found dead.

When statutory notifiable avian disease is confirmed action to confine and stamp out disease includes movement controls on susceptible species in the area around the premises, enhanced biosecurity, culling of susceptible poultry on the premises and cleansing and disinfection of the premises.

CW 22/1/11