May 19, 2023 9.00 am This story is over 10 months old

What is bird flu and should Lincolnshire be worried about it?

Millions of birds have been culled to stop the spread

By Local Democracy Reporter

As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, experts warn of a potential new health crisis on the horizon – bird flu.

Avian influenza, otherwise known as H5N1, mostly does not affect humans, but poses a significant risk to birds, with a single infected one capable of transmitting the virus to up to 100 others.

The deadly virus has proved to be a serious problem across Lincolnshire over the last few years, with millions of birds culled at huge cost to businesses.

Restrictions on the transport of birds were placed across much of the county to prevent the spread, although it was still found at dozens of commercial farms. Domestic birds were put in their own lockdown.

The first outbreak in several months was traced back to a farm near Scunthorpe earlier this week.

Back in October 2022, officers from Lincolnshire County Council warned that there was a “serious risk” of it spreading across the county after cases were confirmed near Sleaford.

Recently, two poultry workers in the UK tested positive for the virus after coming into contact with infected birds, although the location of this has not been confirmed.

Reports suggest that the two people involved have now tested negative but displayed no symptoms.

Thousands of chickens were culled after a bird flu outbreak in Lincolnshire in 2022 | Photo: Open Cages

There have been fears in the past that the virus could jump from animal populations to humans in the same way that Covid-19 did.

Experts estimate that if the virus were to spread among humans, it could result in a fatality rate of 50%-60%, including children.

Professor Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said: “Current evidence suggests that the avian influenza viruses we’re seeing circulating in birds around the world do not spread easily to people.

“However, we know already that the virus can spread to people following close contact with infected birds and this is why, through screening programmes like this one, we are monitoring people who have been exposed, to learn more about this risk.”

Avian influenza not only poses a threat to birds but has also proved fatal to various animals.

In a recent incident, a pet dog in Canada died after consuming a wild goose infected with the virus. Additionally, scientists suspect that it may be the reason behind the deaths nearly 3,500 sea lions in Peru.

However, bird flu expert Professor Ricard Webby explains that it would first need to go through three major categories of genetic changes to do so.

It has only undergone one of the necessary changes so far.

While the virus is a serious concern to farmers and poultry owners, only time will tell how disruptive it will prove to humans.

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