The World Health Organisation has warned of a possible human outbreak caused by the spread of the virus, urging the public to be on “high alert”.
More than 5,000 turkeys at a farm in Lincolnshire were diagnosed with the N5N8 strain of avian flu in December and cases in wild birds have been discovered in Northern Ireland.
In response to the deadly virus, the Department of Agriculture has extended restrictions on poultry flocks until at least March 16.
To avoid the spread of the infection, poultry flocks in “high risk” areas must be kept inside, which means they can no longer be considered free range.
Experts have warned about a UK outbreak of bird flu, including possible human transmission
The major method of transmission is people getting bird droppings on their clothes and boots
Professor Donald Broom
Donald Broom, emeritus professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, warned the public to avoid contact with the “most prone” birds to avian flu.
“It is almost entirely the droppings [that transmit the virus] from the birds, so if ducks, geese or swans are standing around the water, that is the main place where there would be droppings.
“Those droppings then might get onto somebody’s boots or they might come into contact directly with poultry.
The World Health Organisation has warned against human infection after reported cases in Asia
“The major method of transmission is people getting bird droppings on their clothes and boots and taking it into the poultry unit.”
The outbreak has caused rising concerns, with experts saying it is only a matter of time before the virus makes the jump from birds to humans.
Over the past three months, cases of the different strands of avian flu have been reported in poultry farms and wild birds across Europe, Asia and Africa. Since October almost 40 countries have reported new outbreaks of the virus.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the world “cannot afford to miss the early signals” of a possible human pandemic arising from the outbreak.
Director General Margaret Chan told the UN agency’s executive board: “The rapidly expanding geographical distribution of these outbreaks and the number of virus strains currently co-circulating have put WHO on high alert.”
While no humans have been infected with bird flu in the UK – there are plans in place to manage any suspected cases.
Bird flu is diagnosed based on the symptoms and the likelihood that the patient has been in contact with an infected bird – either in areas affected by bird flu or bird markets.
NHS Choices said symptoms of bird flu can include a high temperature, aching muscles, headache, respiratory symptoms – such as a cough and a runny nose. The also include loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and tireless.
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