‘Largest-ever outbreak’ of bird flu with 'phenomenal levels' across UK

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The UK is suffering its ‘largest-ever outbreak’ of bird flu, the Environment Secretary has warned.

There are 40 infected premises across Britain amid warnings that wild birds migrating from mainland Europe during the winter are likely carrying the disease.

Half a million birds have been culled as the country remains only a few weeks into a three-month migratory season.

It comes after an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared across the UK on November 3.

This was extended on November 29 with the requirement that all captive birds be kept indoors.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer, who is leading the response, warned cases are at a ‘phenomenal level’ on Thursday.

Bird flu only infects humans in extremely rare cases, but the situation has ‘huge human, animal and trade implications’,Christine Middlemiss said.

She told the BBC: ‘We can’t wait until another year and have an even bigger outbreak. 

‘So, we will be working not just with our own scientists but internationally, to understand more of what we can do about what’s behind it.’

Cautioning the migratory season will last until March, she added: ‘We are going to need to keep up these levels of heightened biosecurity for all that time.’

Immediate research is needed to stop a worse outbreak in future years, Ms Middlemiss added.

Minister George Eustice told the House of Commons today: ‘Each year the UK faces a seasonal risk in incursion of avian influenza associated with migratory wild birds. 

‘While we have that each year, I have to say this year we are now seeing the largest-ever outbreak in the UK of avian influenza with 36 confirmed cases.’

The protection zone means keepers must continue taking precautions including regular cleaning and disinfecting clothing, equipment and vehicles and limiting access to non-essential workers and visitors.

Defra has said the new housing measures will be kept under regular review.

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