H1N1 swine flu found in UK poultry
THE swine flu virus, H1N1, has been found in poultry for the first time in the UK.
The virus was discovered on a farm in Cheshire during a routine disease investigation in turkeys that began over a fortnight ago.
The investigation into a possible notifiable avian flu outbreak was instigated after a small number of turkeys showed mild signs of disease.
While avian flu was ruled out, a strain of H1N1 influenza ‘closely similar to the human pandemic H1N1 strain currently circulating’ was confirmed in laboratory tests on Tuesday.
The discovery comes amid renewed public fears over H1N1, after a marked upsurge in cases in humans in the UK since December.
However, the strain discovered in the turkeys appears to be a mild one and the Government has stressed that there is little risk to either humans or poultry.
None of the birds died and they have shown ‘clinical improvement’ since the alarm was raised.
In a sign that the authorities are not overly concerned about the risk of onward spread, movement restrictions imposed when disease was first suspected were immediately lifted when H1N1 was identified, rather than a potentially far more virulent avian flu strain.
As H1N1 is not a notifiable disease in poultry there will be no formal investigation into the cause. Sources have suggested, however, that the most likely scenario is that the turkeys were infected by a farm worker with the virus.
The Health Protection Agency has undertaken a public health risk assessment and has stated there is no risk to public health.
“There is no food safety risk,” Defra said in a statement on its website. “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.”
Pandemic H1N1 2009, dubbed swine flu after it originated in pigs in Mexico in 2009, has infected millions of humans across the world over the past two years.
It has been confirmed in a small number of cases in poultry in other countries, including the USA, Canada, Chile and France, but this is the first recorded case in poultry in the UK. The virus has been identified in a number of UK pig herds, however, including at least six in 2009.
Defra urged bird keepers to maintain appropriate biosecurity measures, be vigilant for signs of notifiable avian disease and report any suspicions promptly to the Animal Health agency.