This year’s outbreak has been the largest and longest ever experienced in the UK and in many parts of Europe, with more than 120 cases so far in this country.
Dr Alastair Ward, Associate Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Management at the University of Leeds, said in recent years “a few dozen birds” had tested positive, and the number of cases so far this season was ” unheard of.”
He said: “Normally I would expect to see it at its peak during the winter months as the virus arrives from Eurasia and I would expect it to be exhausted and gradually disappear during the spring. He could be spending the summer in Europe, which he hasn’t done before.
“We continue to see suspected cases in wild birds… it could still be present. We certainly have evidence of bird flu throughout Europe, Eurasia and North America, so it’s probably fair to say that it’s approaching a pandemic and worrying levels are being seen in wild bird populations.”
There are many strains of the influenza virus, which comes from the same family as the one that causes Covid. Like the Covid they mutate, adapt and evolve very quickly.
Dr Ward, part of a new consortium awarded £1.5m of taxpayer money to come up with strategies to tackle the outbreaks, is looking at whether he can set up an early warning system to alert farmers so that implement biosecurity measures before the first. Outbreaks are detected using the carcasses of dead birds shot off the coast of the Humber, Wash, Solway Firth and Lancashire.
Bird flu is most commonly found in ducks, geese and swans and when the hunting season begins this September, bird hunters will be asked to take samples from the carcasses and send the samples for analysis to the Animal Health Agency and Vegetable in Weybridge, Surrey.
During the 2020/2021 season, a teal vaccine in the Humber tested positive and a similar strain later appeared in Kent. A wigeon, also shot in the Humber, was found with a highly pathogenic strain (the potential of the virus to kill chickens) which later turned up in Cheshire.
Dr Ward said the current outbreak alone is likely to have cost more than £100m, and early warning could lead to massive savings, including a huge reduction in the number of domestic birds culled to try to control the illness.
He added: “It’s a huge conservation concern; there are potentially wild birds that are dying and these are populations that are already under significant pressure from a number of other things. It is also worrying for the poultry industry. With several thousand ducks and geese being legally shot by hunters in the UK each year, these could offer an excellent resource for detecting the disease.
“This is what we sought to assess during our study.”
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This notice was published: 2022-06-21 05:00:54