Flu virus plansVets back government bird flu plans

20 February 2006

A top vet claims that Britain has 'very good' contingency plans to deal with an outbreak of deadly bird flu.

Dr Freda Scott-Park, who is president of the (BVA), said the government and the poultry industry were working together to minimise the risks of an outbreak.

'The government are working in partnership with the poultry industry and that means that they are seeking their advice on a daily, even hourly basis, when the situation changes,' she told a TV programme today.

Globally, bird flu has killed 91 people since 2003. All the victims contracted it from close contact with poultry. However, experts fear that the virus could mutate so that it can be passed from person to person, resulting in a pandemic.

Dead swans tested

Dr Scott-Park's remarks came as officials were on high alert over the possible spread of bird flu to Britain. The government said it was 'more likely' the disease would reach British birds after a duck in France was confirmed as infected with the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu.

Nine dead swans in Britain were sent for tests over the weekend after members of the public called the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) helpline. Two each were from Bury St Edmunds, Winchester and Preston, while individual birds were found in Shrewsbury, Thirsk and Hertfordshire.

A Defra spokesman said: 'All the tests have so far been negative but testing continues. Obviously, we are at a heightened level of surveillance given the case in France.'

A spokeswoman for the BVA said: 'A one-off dead bird isn't necessarily something to worry about, but if you come across several, that's more serious. But given the results from France, caution is the word - people should report dead birds because if they're not infected at least they can be ruled out of the equation.'

Anyone who sees unusually large groups of dead birds should call the Defra helpline on 08459 335577. Scientific experts will assess the information and decide on any further action.