Commenting on the confirmed outbreak of 'Bird Flu' in Northern England Prof Andrew Easton, Professor of Virology, University of Warwick, said:
“The confirmed case of H7N7, otherwise known as bird flu, in Lancashire is a concern because of the potential threat to the UK poultry industry. There is no reason at this stage to believe that there is a threat to humans either directly by infection with the virus or indirectly by the presence of the virus in food. Bird flu in poultry is categorised as being of either low or high risk of disease in domestic birds such as chickens and it is the latter category that is the most concerning.
“Bird flu strains are identified by the nature of two proteins that form part of the virus; there are 16 different types of H protein and 9 types of N protein. In theory these two proteins can be found in any of a total of 144 possible combinations, though only a relatively small number of these have actually been identified in nature. Of the ones found only a few types have been associated with serious disease in birds. The high risk category can cause fatal infections in birds and spread very rapidly so there is constant surveillance for their presence and emergency procedures that are adopted when a suspected case arises. It is important that the preventative steps are put in place as quickly as possible to restrict the risk of spread to other farms. This is accompanied by a programme of killing the birds at the suspect premises as a precaution to further limit the risk of spread.
“There is a worldwide surveillance system testing and identifying influenza outbreaks and this provides a very good information network to identify the most serious flu strains.
“Some bird flu strains (e.g. H5N1) have been shown to be capable of infecting humans in rare circumstances. Some of the strains are extremely dangerous and can cause serious disease or death in a high proportion of the infected people. However, while these tragic situations are of concern, to date the viruses involved have not been able to spread efficiently between people and the outbreaks have been sporadic and contained. ”
To speak with Professor Easton please contact:
Tom Frew - International Press Officer, University of Warwick;
a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk
+44 (0) 2476575910
Professor Andrew Easton;A dot J dot Easton at warwick dot ac dot uk
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