Ten things you should know about bird flu

1. Avian influenza is a disease of birds.

The virus does not easily transmit from birds to humans. In the rare cases where people have caught the disease from birds, they have been in very close contact with dead or dying birds or their faeces. Seasonal flu is caused by viruses which spread among humans each year and makes people ill, especially in winter.

Pandemic flu could happen if a flu virus mutates into a new strain which spreads easily between humans who have no immunity to the new virus.

2. In England, the government department dealing with flu in birds is Defra. Human flu is dealt with by the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales these are matters for the devolved governments of each country. However, we all work closely together.

3. There is a possibility that bird flu will be found in Britain again over the coming months. Migrating birds are now moving South- and West-ward from their summer feeding grounds in Russia and this is thought to be a factor in the global spread of the virus.

4. There are two types of the virus – low pathogenic and high pathogenic. The latter is more virulent and less common.

5. There is widespread testing of wild birds (and poultry) in Britain.

Since January 2006 more than 8,000 wild birds have been tested and only one was found to be carrying a highlypathogenic form of the virus. This volume of testing means that results are not normally issued unless they are positive.

6. There are two testing categories – report and survey. Report cases are those where there is reason to suspect the presence of disease. Survey testing is routine sampling of live birds (including farm birds), dead birds and shot birds.

7. Some dead birds will be collected for testing, but this is done on a carefully targeted basis. The public can get more information from the Defra helpline on 08459 335577 or in Northern Ireland from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development helpline on 028 9052 4999.

8. The best way for farmers to keep disease away from their flocks is to adopt good biosecurity — hygiene and protection measures which include disinfection at entry to and exit from farms.

9. Defra, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly have set up a GB Poultry Register which requires owners of flocks of 50 birds or more to register them on a database. In the event of an outbreak, neighbouring flocks can be easily identified and protected; and poultry keepers contacted about important developments regarding disease in a targeted way through email, post and SMS text message. In Northern Ireland everyone who keeps birds — apart from pet birds always kept in the home — has to register on the NI Bird Register set up by the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development.

10. There is no reason for people to stop eating poultry or eggs. The Food Standards Agency says this has not been identified as a cause of avian flu in humans.

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