JANUARY 11, 2008: Tests are continuing on birds around Chesil Beach in Dorset as vetstry to contain an outbreak of H5N1, the deadly form of bird flu found in swans.
Three mute swans found dead at Abbotsbury Swannery tested positive for the virulent strain of bird flu.So far culling has been ruled out, but there are restrictions on movements of captive birds nearby.Government officials were due to inspect all commercial poultry premises in the area for signs of the disease.Acting Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg urged all bird keepers to remain vigilant.The outbreak was picked up by routine testing. The swannery, which holds 600 swans, said the three birds had been found by a member of staff, and Defra had been notified as part of standard procedure.The Health Protection Agency is now monitoring about 12 staff at the reserve for signs of the disease, though the risk of infection is said to be low. The workers have begun a course of Tamiflu tablets as a precaution.There are two restricted areas in place – a wild bird control area and a larger wild bird monitoring area.The control area extends about 25km (15 miles) to the south east of the swannery, and includes the town of Weymouth, Chesil Beach and the Portland Bill headland.The larger monitoring area of some 20 miles also covers the town of Dorchester.Bird owners in the zones must house their flocks where possible, to separate them from wild birds. They are permitted to move their flocks only under special licence.Bird gatherings such as auctions are banned in the area, as is hunting wild birds.Ornithologists say mute swans rarely migrate, so it is most likely the virus got into the colony from a passing wild bird.This is not a major migration season, but wintry weather could have prompted some birds to fly to Britain from Europe in search of food.Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government would do everything it could to stop the spread of infection.He said: “We have had to deal with this issue before and the important thing is that people know we have placed protection zones around the affected area.”Dorset is not an area of extensive poultry production, and farmers’ leaders say that, apart from those producers who are close enough to the outbreak to be under movement restrictions, there will be no impact on poultry supplies in the supermarkets.In November 2007, around 5,000 birds were slaughtered after the H5 strain of avian flu was confirmed in turkeys at Redgrave Park Farm, Suffolk.Previously, a strain was found in chickens at a Norfolk farm in April 2006 and the month before that the deadly H5N1 strain was found in a dead swan on the Fife coast.Experts say cross-infection to humans is still relatively rare and usually occurs where people have been in close contact with infected birds.But they say if the H5N1 strain mutates so it can be passed between humans, it could become a global pandemic.# Defra telephone helpline – 08459 33 55 77