Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bird Flu Outbreak: UK Orders the Slaughter of 160,000 Turkeys; First Human Death Reported in West Africa

February 4, 2007

Deadly Bird Flu Confirmed in British Turkeys

New York Times

LONDON, Feb. 3 — British authorities confirmed Saturday that an outbreak of bird flu discovered among turkeys at a poultry farm in eastern Britain had been caused by the deadly A(H5N1) strain, which has killed humans in other parts of the world.

The disease has killed 2,500 turkeys near Lowestoft since Thursday, making it the biggest outbreak of the strain reported in Britain since concern about its global spread began to take root in 2003.

An additional 160,000 birds will now be culled in an effort to contain the outbreak, government officials said.

The prospect of a mass slaughter recalled Britain’s battle with foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when nearly four million animals, mainly sheep, pigs and cows, were burned.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that veterinary authorities had imposed restrictions in areas within six miles of the infected farm in eastern England, owned by the Bernard Matthews company, one of Europe’s biggest poultry businesses.

The department also said all bird shows and pigeon racing was banned while scientists tried to establish more detail about the virus and the level of risk it presented to humans. The department did not say what had caused the outbreak.

Fred Landeg, a senior government veterinarian, said there was no public health concern. “Avian influenza is a disease of birds,” he said, “and whilst it can pass very rarely and with difficulty to humans, this requires extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly feces.”

Britain’s last brush with the virus was last April, when a dead swan that washed up in Scotland tested positive for the strain. Government scientists said it had probably carried the infection from Germany and posed no threat to humans.

Later that month, chickens in another part of eastern England — a center of poultry farming — died of a different strain of avian influenza, H7, which can cause mild symptoms in humans. At that time, a poultry farm worker fell ill with conjunctivitis, which was attributed to the virus.

The disease is commonly transmitted to farmed birds by infected migrating birds.

But since 2003, 164 people, most of them in Asia, have died of the A(H5N1) strain, and authorities worry that the virus could easily become transmissible among humans to create a global pandemic. About 200 million birds have either died or been killed in the same period.

On Saturday, the World Health Organization confirmed that the strain had killed a 22-year-old Nigerian woman, making her the first known human fatality in sub-Saharan Africa, Reuters reported.

Tests carried out at a laboratory in London confirmed the findings of Nigerian health authorities, who announced on Wednesday that the woman had died after catching the virus from an infected chicken.

Bird flu claims first human life in West Africa

By Tume Ahemba

LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria confirmed the first human death from the H5N1 virus in sub-Saharan Africa on Wednesday after tests on a dead woman showed she had contracted bird flu.

The 22-year-old died after feathering and disembowelling an infected chicken. She was from Lagos, the commercial capital of Africa's most populous country, Information Minister Frank Nweke said.

Test on three other victims, one of them the woman's mother, were inconclusive.

Nigeria was the first African nation to detect the H5N1 virus in poultry last year and had conducted tests on 14 people suspected of having the virus.

Although bird flu remains essentially an animal disease, experts fear it could mutate into a form that could pass easily among humans, possibly killing millions.

In Africa, 11 people have died in Egypt from bird flu since 2003 and there has been a single non-fatal human case in Djibouti, in the eastern Horn.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 164 people worldwide, most of them in Asia, and Indonesia has the world's highest death toll - 63.

Six Indonesians have died in 2007 from bird flu, which is endemic in poultry in most of the country's provinces, and Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta said this flare-up meant bird flu would now be categorised as a national disaster.

This will trigger additional funding for a focussed fight against the virus.

"It is an epidemic, the funding will be allocated from a disaster fund in the state budget," Suzetta said on Wednesday.

"The handling of this will no longer be on an ad hoc basis, but it will be done comprehensively." Indonesia said in December it planned to tackle the virus more forcefully and hoped to beat it by the end of 2007.


Nigeria is among countries regarded by experts as the weakest links in the global attempt to stem infections of birds.

The virus has spread to 17 of Nigeria's 36 states over the past year despite measures such as culling, quarantine and bans on transporting live poultry.

World Health Organisation spokesman Gregory Hartl said a human case of bird flu in Nigeria was to be expected because of the experience in other countries, such as Indonesia, with huge poultry populations where chickens and hens live in close proximity to humans.

"It does not change anything from a public health point of view," Hartl said. "It had to happen sooner or later."

In Japan, the Agriculture Ministry confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in the western prefecture of Okayama, the third in the country since the beginning of the year.

Another outbreak is suspected at a poultry farm in the southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki. There have been no reported cases of human infection from the virus in Japan.

More than 200 million birds have died from bird flu or have been killed to prevent its spread since 2003.

(Reporting by Tume Ahemba in Lagos, Muhamadd Al Azhari in Jakarta, Linda Sieg in Tokyo and Richard Waddington in Geneva)

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