H5N1 in the UK

Bird flu cartoon courtesy of Peter HellemanUK government vets have confirmed infection with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in 2600 turkeys that died on a Suffolk farm owned by the Bernard Matthews company. The 159,000 turkey flock will have to be culled with all the risks that entails to prevent the disease spreading further.

According to a statement from the European Commission a protection zone of 3 km radius and a 10 km surveillance zone will be established around Holton, a village about 25 km south-west of Lowestoft.

This is the first time H5N1 has been identified in the UK on a commercial property. A previous outbreak of avian influenza was H7 that required a cull of 50000 fowl to be culled.

There are fifteen known variants of avian influenza. The most virulent, and usually fatal in birds, are H5 and H7 strains. There are then nine variants of the H5 strain and the type of most concern because of the risk to human health is H5N1. While H5N1 can be fatal in humans it has not yet mutated into a form that can be transmitted from person to person.

According to virologist John Oxford of the Queen Mary College, University of London, “I don’t think it has made any difference as a threat to the human population.”

Meanwhile, Channelnewsasia.com today reports yet another outbreak of H5N1 in Japan, the fourth this year.

11 thoughts on “H5N1 in the UK”

  1. I have to agree, we avoid battery farmed fowl and always try to source our meat from known, local, non-factory sources. Not everyone has that option though, especially in the inner cities, but you’re right, the fact that the Holton site houses hundreds of thousands of birds and important tons of turkey meat for processing is horrendous. It’s not the rural livestock market in an eastern country or the farm where people exist in close proximity to birds and their faeces that will light the fuse, but sites such as this of which there are hundreds scattered across the Western world.

  2. Dave said: “Investigators have now reported that there were problems of hygiene associated with this site ….”

    The big hygiene issue with these massive poultry operations is that they exist. I live near one situated at an agricultural school where the birds were packed in so tight that a power failure one night in the WINTER caused the death of thousands from over heating.

    Personally, I think these operations are biological powder-kegs just waiting for some pathogen to set them off.


  3. Investigators have now reported that there were problems of hygiene associated with this site and gaps big enough for small birds or rats to enter into the supposedly sealed turkey sheds, so it seems the Hungarian connection may have been a red herring. Red herrings, of course, can’t catch bird flu…

  4. The Holton bird flu strain could have entered the UK from Hungary, as it turns out to be the same strain, the BBC reports.

  5. Cantonese (Guangzhou or Hong Kong residents for instance) like to cook chicken or fish to just done. Sometimes the chef controls the cooking time so that only the flesh part of the chicken is done, while the bone part is still bleeding, because overcooked meat is tough and dry.

  6. Is that right? Bird flu aside, there’s always salmonella from inadequately cooked poultry to consider.

  7. A vet who attended the Holton turkey farm where the H5N1 outbreak occurred fell ill with respiratory problem was taken to hospital for tests does not have H5N1

  8. The UK government hopes to “stamp out” the outbreak of bird flu and return the country to its “disease free” status, David Miliband, Environment Secretary, says.

  9. Right at the outset I want to establish that I am no ‘back-to-the-land’ Green nor do I have any compunctions over slaughtering animals for food. I am also no vegetarian, my young daughter is however a recent convert.

    Last week she prepared a casserole normally requiring half of a kilo of ground turkey with a soy and mushroom based ground turkey substitute. I was drafted as a blind tester, unaware of the switch.

    I did not notice the change.

    She has also served us a similar ersatz ground beef, and chicken fillets, and again we were hard pressed to find a difference.

    The stuff is shockingly expensive, coming in at about eight times the price of the real product, but I do think this is the way we must go.

    Battery fowl, be it turkey, chicken, or laying hens, creates an ideal breading ground for disease, and one where the huge numbers packed in close quarters can pass these pathogens around with such speed that mutations can arise incredibly quickly. Add to this the general inefficiency of these animals as protein converters, and the very real problems with disposing of their feces, and I think we have to reexamine the logic of this whole industry.

    The fact is that acceptable alternatives exist, and if production of these where ramped up I’m sure the price could be brought down to levels perhaps even below the real thing.

    When we rail against polluters, and hazardous industries, and demand that they must pay the cost of the damage they do, we tend to think of the smokestack sector, or the mining sectors, but we also should keep some of our bile for agribusiness as well.

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