Bird Flu Alarm

2006-04-29-Eye infection diagnosed in bird flu farm worker

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-04-29-Eye infection diagnosed in bird flu farm worker

A POULTRY worker has contracted conjunctivitis from birds on the Norfolk farm infected with a low pathogenic strain of H7 avian flu virus.

The man, who has not been named, suffered red irritable eyes yesterday. He was immediately treated and is now said to be in good health. His family have been examined but show no signs of this mild infection.

The worker, employed by Banham Poultry UK Ltd, is one of 70 people who are also being treated with Oseltamivir, the antiviral drug, to protect them from bird flu. No one else has shown symptoms of sickness.

The incident yesterday was not linked with an avian flu outbreak and medical experts said that the dust and dry conditions in chicken sheds make workers more prone to conjunctivitis.

Debby Reynolds, the Government's chief vet, last night confirmed that the virus infecting 35,000 birds at Whitford Lodge farm in North Tuddenham, near Dereham, was the less virulent H7N3 flu strain. This was last seen in Britain in 1979 and has no resemblance to the lethal H5N1 virus.

A cull of the chickens was under way, after being delayed by 24 hours because of an error that required a new firm to be called in to assist.

The H7N3 virus is endemic in poultry in parts of America and has also been reported recently in chickens in Canada and Italy. It is not easily passed between humans or birds.

However, Dr Reynolds has ordered extra checks on bird samples to make certain that there is no evidence of the highly pathogenic strain of the virus that could decimate commercial poultry flocks. A 1 km (2/3 ml) surveillance zone is in place around the infected Witford Lodge farm and movement restrictions on all birds and eggs are in place on 30 other premises in Norfolk and Suffolk owned by Banham.

Three years ago, during the outbreak of H7 Asian flu in the Netherlands, 88 people suffered conjunctivitis and of these 10 per cent also had severe respiratory problems.

Government vets are still investigating the cause of the outbreak at the Norfolk farm, but suspect that the virus arrived from another infected farm or from wild birds.

Understanding Avian Influenza