As the H5N1 strain of avian flu hits record numbers of UK birds, a leading testing expert warns the virus can be lethal to humans and its spread is likely to accelerate this winter.
The UK is facing its largest-ever avian flu outbreak, with 1,727 cases so far detected in the UK‘s wild bird population. In addition,161 captive birds have tested positive for the H5N1 strain. As a result, 3.2m birds have been culled across Britain in an urgent bid to stop its spread.
A leading testing expert has warned Brits must be extra vigilant. The UK is one of two western European countries where the potentially lethal H5N1 strain has already spread to humans.
The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman, PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Obviously, this is a potential catastrophe for Britain’s bird breeders. This week alone, the Government has ordered that all poultry in Norfolk, Suffolk and parts of Essex must be kept indoors following the virus’s rapid spread. However, it could also represent a significant threat to humans.’
‘A British man contracted the virus earlier this year. Duck expert Alan Gosling, 79, is believed to have caught the H5N1 strain of avian flu from his Muscovy ducks. And only last week, a worker at a Spanish poultry farm in the province of Guadalajara contracted the virus. Bird flu is spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive).’
‘It can be caught by touching infected birds, their droppings or bedding, or by killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking. It’s thought to be quite hard for humans to catch avian flu from birds, but when those cases occur, there have been several fatalities.’
‘Higher numbers of cases mean a greater chance of mutation. That’s likely to be how the Covid virus spread from bats to humans.’
Professor Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at the UK Health Security Agency, has warned: ‘Currently, there is no evidence that this strain detected in the UK can spread from person to person, but we know that viruses evolve all the time, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.’
‘UK scientists and health professionals are concerned that, whereas in previous years the virus has mostly died out during the summer months, this new outbreak has persisted all year round and spread more easily. In addition, this autumn may be further spread by migratory birds returning to the UK to overwinter, bringing additional disease risk.’
‘From the point of view of a health professional, it’s particularly concerning that there is no bird flu vaccine as yet. The seasonal flu vaccine many of us are receiving doesn’t protect against bird flu, a different type of influenza.’
Primary symptoms of bird flu
- cough or shortness of breath
- very high temperature or feeling hot or shivery
- aching muscles
‘Of course, those are worryingly similar symptoms to several other viruses, including Covid, which we currently contend with.’
Early symptoms not seen in cases of flu or Covid
- stomach pain
- chest pain
- bleeding from the nose and gums
‘Patients may develop more severe complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Worrying about your Christmas turkey or goose is too soon, and you can’t catch avian flu by eating properly cooked poultry or eggs. However, anyone who works with birds or finds a sickly bird must be vigilant and take extra precautions.’
‘In the absence of any effective human avian flu vaccine, a general health test might be a useful course of action for anyone concerned to ensure they are in overall good health to help fight the symptoms of new viruses.’
‘London Medical Laboratory’s Health Profile Test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including vitamin D levels, diabetes (HbA1c), liver and kidney function, full blood count, bone health, iron levels, and a full cholesterol profile.’
‘It can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics, selected pharmacies and health stores that offer this test across London and UK-wide.’