Bird flu identified at a Suffolk Bernard Matthews poultry farm
18th April 2013
chickensAll movements in or out of a Bernard Matthews poultry has been immediately halted following the discovery of a strain of bird flu, leaving thousands of chickens and turkeys at risk of being culled. Government officials demanded the lockdown on the premises in Suffolk as a precautionary measure despite Environment agency Defra stating that the outbreak did not involve either the H5 or H7 strains – potentially deadly when contracted by humans. A Defra spokesman said: “We are awaiting further laboratory test results from an ongoing investigation into suspect avian disease at a premises in the South East. The premises remains under restriction pending further results. Public Health England are aware and are ready to take the necessary action pending further test results.” Bernard Matthews released a statement via a spokesman, saying: “Bernard Matthews can confirm that Defra have undertaken tests for avian influenza on one of its farms following notification by the company after some birds showed signs of ill health over the weekend. The tests have detected the presence of an avian influenza virus, but Defra have confirmed it is not the highly pathogenic types H5 or H7. As a precaution, the farm remains currently under movement restrictions but these are expected to be lifted in the next few days. Bernard Matthews' other operations continue to run as normal.” Employees at the Suffolk Bernard Matthews farm are already familiar with avian (bird) flu outbreaks after the infamous 2007 outbreak of the H5N1 strain which proved disastrous for the company. Around 160,000 turkeys had to be slaughtered to stop a crisis that threatened to spiral out of control with 320 workers given anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu to protect them from flu and 130 workers were made redundant following the company losing £20 million in lost sales and other costs. At the time, experts claimed that they believed the outbreak started after contaminated meat was imported from Hungary to the company's processing plant next to the farm. This time however, workers at the Suffolk farm are almost certain that the government restrictions will be lifted in the next few days as there is no evidence of the H5 or H7 strain being present. The restrictions in Suffolk occur after the deadly outbreak of a new bird flu strain known as H7N9 in China. So far, 17 deaths have occurred from the 82 people known to have contracted a virus that is still causing confusion for health experts as it is unclear if some of those affected actually came into contact with poultry and as of yet, there is no current evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission but worryingly, Zeng Guang, chief scientist in charge of epidemiology at the China Disease Prevention and Control Centre (CDPCC), has claimed that around 40% of human victims seem to have no apparent history of poultry exposure. Of the 17 deaths, 11 have occurred in China’s commercial capital; Shanghai. In addition, tens of thousands of chickens have had to be slaughtered. In total, the Chinese H7N9 bird flu outbreak has caused their poultry industry to record losses in excess of $1.6 billion (£1.05 billion).