The Health Protection Surveillance Centre is monitoring the situation regarding Avian Influenza

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The UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed H5N1 avian influenza on a poultry farm in North Suffolk, England.  It has been identified as the highly pathogenic Asian strain, similar to the virus found in Hungary in January.  The results were laboratory confirmed by experts at the State Veterinary Service.  The affected premises were put under restriction on Thursday (1st February) evening and, as required under EU legislation, Defra have commenced a cull of all poultry on the infected premises and imposed a 3-kilometre protection zone and a 10-kilometre outer surveillance zone around the farm area. This is to prevent further spread to neighbouring flocks and or farms.

Despite this incident the current level of risk to humans from H5N1 remains extremely low. Nonetheless, any possibility of exposure is taken very seriously and the Health Protection Agency has worked closely with Defra and local NHS partners to ensure that all the necessary actions are being taken to protect those people who may have been exposed to the virus.  These actions include the offering of antiviral drugs and seasonal influenza vaccine where appropriate to people who have been in close contact with the infected poultry.

The UK is the second EU Member State, along with Hungary, to report a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in poultry. 

H5N1 avian influenza remains predominantly a disease of birds. All evidence to date indicates that close contact with dead or sick birds is the principal source of human infection with the H5N1 virus. Especially risky behaviours identified include the slaughtering, de-feathering, butchering and preparation for consumption of infected birds. In a few cases, exposure to chicken faeces when children played in an area frequented by free-ranging poultry is thought to have been the source of infection. In all human cases to date there has been no evidence of efficient human-to-human transmission and human infections remain a rare event.  As of the 3rd February 2007, 271 confirmed human cases and 165 (61%) deaths from avian influenza A (H5N1) have been reported to the WHO from Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. 

The advice from the Department of Agriculture and Food in Ireland is not to handle dead wild birds unless necessary. For further information please consult the Department of Agriculture and Food website. For queries relating to dead birds please contact the Department of Agriculture and Food on the Avian Influenza Hotline: 1890 252 283.

At present, recommendations on travel, personal protection and food safety remain unchanged.  Current travel advice is available here. The WHO level of pandemic alert remains unchanged at phase 3. This is defined as a virus new to humans that is causing infections, but does not spread easily from one person to another. The latest updates from the WHO are available on the WHO website.

Further information on avian influenza is also available on the HPSC website.