Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-20-Britain on high alert over bird flu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-20-Britain on high alert over bird flu

Britain is on a high alert over the possible spread of bird flu to the UK.

The warning came as tests continue on a number of birds found dead in recent days.

Following the confirmation that a duck which died of bird flu in France was infected with the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus, the Government said it was "more likely" the disease would reach Britain.

A Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) spokesman said nine swans had been sent for tests over the weekend after members of the public called the helpline.

Two each were from Bury St Edmonds, Winchester and Preston, while individual birds were found in Shrewsbury, Thirsk and Hertfordshire.

"All the tests have so far been negative but testing continues," he added. "Obviously, we are at a heightened level of surveillance given the case in France."

The spokesman was unable to confirm reports that a dead swan found in Great Abington, Cambridgeshire, was being tested at the EU's Weybridge laboratory in Surrey.

A spokeswoman for the British Veterinary Association said while birds died all the time, the heightened awareness meant anybody finding a dead bird at the moment was likely to report it.

"A one-off dead bird isn't necessarily something to worry about, but if you come across several that's more serious. 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," she said.

Animal health minister Ben Bradshaw said it was not inevitable the disease would spread to Britain, but the most important thing was to identify any outbreak quickly.

Understanding Avian Influenza