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First human case of H5 avian flu detected in the UK

Routine testing revealed very rare case of transmission to a human after close contact with infected birds.


A person in the south west of England has acquired avian influenza from very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time.

The case was detected after the APHA identified an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian flu at the premises as part of the routine monitoring conducted on anyone who has close contact with infected birds.

Testing by the UK Health Security Agency detected low levels of flu in the individual and further laboratory analysis revealed that the virus was the ‘H5’ type, found in birds.

At this point it has not been possible to confirm that this is an H5N1 infection (the strain that is currently circulating in birds in the UK).

This is the first human case of this strain in the UK, although there have been cases elsewhere globally.

All contacts of the individual have been traced and there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection, according to UKHSA. The individual is currently well and self-isolating.

The infected birds have all been culled.

While some strains of avian flu can pass to humans, it is extremely rare and usually requires close contact with an infected bird. Human-to-human transmission of bird flu is very rare.

Professor Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at UKHSA, said:

“While the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low, we know that some strains do have the potential to spread to humans and that’s why we have robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.

“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. We have followed up all of this individual’s contacts and have not identified any onward spread.

“It remains critical that people do not touch sick or dead birds, and that they follow the Defra advice about reporting.”

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, added:

“While avian influenza is highly contagious in birds, this is a very rare event and is very specific to the circumstances on this premises.

“We took swift action to limit the spread of the disease at the site in question, all infected birds have been humanely culled, and cleansing and disinfection of the premises is underway. This is a reminder that stringent cleanliness when keeping animals is important.

“We are seeing a growing number of cases in birds on both commercial farms and in backyard flocks across the country. Implementing scrupulous biosecurity measures will help keep your birds safe.”

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