Reassurance over bird flu risk

THE risk of avian flu arriving in Britain via East Anglia during the forthcoming spring migration of wild birds is very low, according to the RSPB.However, the chance of mute swans, geese or ducks bringing the virus into the region will remain for a few more weeks - until the last of them have returned to their breeding habitat in more northern climes.

By David Green

THE risk of avian flu arriving in Britain via East Anglia during the forthcoming spring migration of wild birds is very low, according to the RSPB.

However, the chance of mute swans, geese or ducks bringing the virus into the region will remain for a few more weeks - until the last of them have returned to their breeding habitat in more northern climes.

The so-called H5N1 strain of bird flu has devastated poultry flocks across Asia since 2003 and has recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East - areas through which wild birds will fly during the spring migration into Britain.


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Millions of birds will arrive in this country over the next few weeks from these areas, many of them ready to spend the summer in East Anglia.

Andre Farrar, RSPB spokesman, said swans, geese and wild ducks were still moving within Europe to try to keep ahead of cold weather systems.

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The risk of avian flu arriving in Britain as a result of cold weather movements would recede as these birds went back to Siberia but would increase again in the autumn as they returned to Britain.

Risks as a result of the spring migration of birds such as swallows, house martins and swifts into Europe from Africa had been assessed as remote up until the outbreak of the flu in Nigeria.

Mr Farrar said the situation in Nigeria was getting worse but it was entirely the result of illegal imports of poultry and poor hygiene.

“It has nothing to do with migrating birds,” he said.

In all the outbreaks of the flu in Europe, none had so far involved small birds carrying the virus.

“The risk of these smaller birds bringing the virus into Britain from Africa is very low,” Mr Farrar said.

“Fewer than 300 wild birds have been found with the virus in the whole of Europe and there has so far been no case of a wild bird giving the flu to humans.

“ There are literally billions of wild birds in Europe at present and billions will be arriving in the spring.

“Bird flu can be passed from birds to humans through close contact but the chance of anyone here having close contact with a wild bird infected with the virus is up there higher than the chances of winning the Lottery,” he said.

Free range poultry farmers in East Anglia and elsewhere have been told that flocks can stay outside for the time being.

They have also been assured that even if they are ordered to keep flocks inside buildings, they can still sell produce as free range for a 12-week period, still attracting the higher premium.

n An Indonesian toddler has died of bird flu, bringing the country's toll to 21.

The three-year-old boy died in hospital after apparently coming into contact with sick chickens. Further investigations are being carried out to confirm the source of the infection.

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