UK reports human case of bird flu

Chicken stuck together on a farm
Chicken farm, photo: Canva

A human in England has been infected with avian influenza, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a statement on Thursday. The individual is self-isolating.

The person, who lives in the southwest of England, got infected from being in contact with birds at their house, the statement said. The case was discovered after the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) identified the H5N1 strain of bird flu in their birds.

In the UK, people who have been in contact with infected birds are also tested for bird flu. The UKHSA swabbed the person and detected the ‘H5’ type virus: it’s not confirmed if it’s the H5N1 type, which has been spreading in birds in the UK. The birds at the person’s house have all been killed, and their bodies destroyed.

The British government has alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of its first human case of this strain of bird flu. Isabel Oliver, Chief Scientific Officer at UKHSA, said that some strains of bird flu can spread to humans.

She added that even though there’s no evidence that the strain detected in England can spread from person to person, viruses can evolve all the time. That’s why the UKHSA is closely monitoring the situation, Oliver said.

The UKHSA warned people not to touch sick or dead birds to prevent getting infected. It monitors people who have been at places where bird flu has been detected. “For those with the highest risk exposures [at farms], we contact them daily to see if they have developed symptoms so that we can take appropriate action,” the UKHSA said.

It added that anti-viral treatment is offered to people after exposure to infected birds to reduce the symptoms and risk of passing the infection on to others.

Britain killed around half a million birds in 2021 as it’s dealing with what Environment Secretary George Eustice has called the country’s “largest-ever” avian flu outbreak.

In December, the government ruled that farmers need to keep their birds inside, which means no daylight for farm chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese in their already shortened lives as ‘food animals’.

“To prevent the next pandemic, we need to change the way we treat non-human animals. Animal welfare is closely linked to animal health, which in turn is linked to human health,” animal welfare organization Four Paws said on their website, adding that industrial animal farming is one of the biggest threats to public health.

The Animal Reader is a small independent news platform with daily posts about issues affecting animals.

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