- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

From combined dispatches

HOLTON, England — Britain scrambled to contain its first outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in domestic poultry yesterday after the virus was found at a farm run by Europe’s biggest turkey producer.

About 2,500 turkeys have died since Thursday at the Bernard Matthews farm near Lowestoft in eastern England. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said all 159,000 turkeys on the farm would be culled.

“We’re in new territory,” National Farmers’ Union Poultry Board Chairman Charles Bourns said. “We’ve every confidence in DEFRA, but until we know how this disease arrived, this is a very apprehensive time for all poultry farmers.”

The virus strain was identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to a virus found in Hungary in January, DEFRA said.

It was the first time the deadly H5N1 strain was found on a British farm.

The outbreak mirrored a similar case in which hundreds of turkeys died at a farm in eastern France almost a year ago.

That outbreak was contained and there followed a lull in cases of H5N1 in European poultry until last month, when thousands of birds were culled after an outbreak among geese on a farm in Hungary.

Also yesterday, the World Heath Organization confirmed Nigeria’s first human death from the strain. Nigerian health officials on Wednesday said several people had apparently contracted the virus, including a young woman who later died.

The strain tends to be transmitted to poultry by infected migrating wildfowl.

The disease has killed at least 164 persons worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia, and more than 200 million birds have died from it, or been killed to prevent its spread.

But it has not yet fulfilled scientists’ worst fears by mutating into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans and possibly cause a global pandemic.

Avian-flu specialist Colin Butter of the Institute of Animal Health said the British outbreak was surprising as it had happened outside the main bird-migration period.

“The next thing we need to know is if this is a primary or secondary case. If this is a secondary case, it is much more serious. If this is the first case, or ‘reference case,’ and we can stamp it out, the outbreak will be controlled,” he said.

A protection zone was established with a radius of 2 miles and a surveillance zone of 6 miles around the infected farm. Bird-related gatherings, such as bird shows and pigeon racing, were suspended nationwide.

Television news footage showed piles of slaughtered birds being funneled into an open tractor-trailer before being taken away for incineration.

Britain’s poultry industry is worth $6.7 billion, with 800 million birds produced each year.

In May, 50,000 chickens at three farms in Norfolk, also in eastern England and home to some of Europe’s biggest poultry farms, were culled after another strain, H7N3, was detected.

A wild swan found dead in Scotland in March had the H5N1 version of the virus. It was thought to have caught the disease elsewhere, died at sea and been washed ashore in Scotland.

Britain’s deputy chief veterinary officer, Fred Landeg, said the virus was found in only one of 22 turkey sheds on the farm, owned by Bernard Matthews PLC, Europe’s largest turkey producer.

Experts stressed the situation did not pose a public health threat, and that eating well-cooked poultry products posed no risk. However, close contact with sick birds, such as in slaughtering or plucking, could lead to transmission of the disease.

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