Some 6,500 Birds Killed In Eastern England Due To Bird Flu (Avian Flu)

British Health officials began slaughtering thousands of birds Tuesday at Redgrave Park Farm in Suffolk in eastern England where a bird-flu outbreak was confirmed this week, and after tests on turkeys found to have avian flu have confirmed the H5N1 strain.

All 6,500 birds - 5,000 free-range turkeys, 1,000 ducks and 500 geese on the farm in Redgrave, Suffolk county, were being culled, while poultry restrictions were forcing free-range birds throughout the county to be moved inside.

The workers doing the culling were given preventative doses of the anti-viral Tamiflu medication, believed to be effective against bird flu, and wore protective gear of gowns, gloves, boots and masks.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Monday that turkeys at the Redgrave farm had tested positive for an H5 subtype of the disease, and that further tests would determine if it was an H5N1 strain similar to that which has swept across Asia, Europe and Africa since 2003.

Bird flu's return to British shores is yet another blow to farmers, who are already struggling after herds were hit this year by foot-and-mouth and bluetongue. If the bird flu spreads, it could devastate the hugely profitable Christmas trade in poultry.

A two-mile protection zone and a six-mile surveillance zone were created around the infected Redgrave farm, and further restrictions were imposed over Suffolk and much of the neighboring county of Norfolk. The alarm was raised Sunday, after a rise in death rates among the birds, which are owned by poultry producer Gressingham Foods, based in Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Britain's first case of H5N1 was in a swan in Scotland in 2006. In February, an outbreak of the virus at a poultry plant in Holton, Suffolk, led to the slaughter of almost 160,000 turkeys. No definitive source was found for that outbreak, which matched a strain that had infected geese in southern Hungary.

"It's been like a bolt from the blue," said Nigel Joyce, a poultry farmer from Fakenham in Norfolk of the latest avian flu outbreak.

"It's heartbreaking," he said.

"There had been issues on the continent about a month ago and it all cleared up... then we get this lightning strike for no apparent reason."

David Barker who farms at Westhorpe, about five miles away from Redgrave said it was a huge blow.

"There is a lot of outdoor poultry these days because of consumer demands for outdoor, free-range and organic poultry... and the farmers in this particular area are meeting what the consumers are requiring.

"There's a lot of poultry being kept not just in the big units, but lots of people in the local villages have chickens in their back yards and they've got to keep them inside for the time being."

And Nigel Joyce believes that these small poultry keepers have to be just as vigilant as the large farmers.

"It is important that they remain vigilant that they do the job the professional poultry keepers do and keep these birds indoors fully protected from migratory birds until we find out the exact cause of this and then hopefully the restrictions will get lifted quickly," he said.

And it is the migratory birds that farmers think may be the cause of this latest outbreak.

Reserve open

Defra's inquiries into the source of the virus are focusing on wild bird transmission but the exact source is still being investigated.

Mr Joyce believes that Defra is assuming at this point the outbreak is due to a migratory bird and that is why there is such a huge control zone.

But at Redgrave and Lopham Fen, a nature reserve that includes a mixture of wet heathland, open water, scrub and woodland, there are no plans to close to the public.

"The reserve will definitely remain open," says Steve Aylward, property manager for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

"The more visitors we have on our sites, the more people there are out there being vigilant and looking out for dead birds."

David Barker said there was a great determination from the farmers in the local area to work with trading standards and Defra to overcome the avian flu outbreak.

"It is really important we roll up our sleeves and we pull together and we help all concerned and we put this behind us as quickly as we can," he said.

In April 2006, chickens on a farm near Dereham Common, Norfolk, tested positive for the H7 subtype of the virus.

Bird flu has killed or prompted the culling of millions of birds world-wide since late 2003, when it first began ravaging Asian poultry stocks. It has killed at least 206 people world-wide since 2003.

Experts believe most victims were probably infected through direct contact with sick birds. Bird flu remains difficult for humans to catch. However, experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a flu pandemic.

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