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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
UK urged to step up flu measures
Chickens in Asia are at high risk of bird flu
A leading flu expert is urging the UK government to step up measures to protect domestic poultry from the deadly strain of avian flu.

Professor John Oxford said poultry should be protected for the next few weeks as wild birds migrate, reducing the risk the H5N1 strain will spread.

Ducks and geese, and not a parrot in quarantine, are the most likely agents to bring H5N1 to UK flocks, he said.

But the government said it had already issued guidance to poultry keepers.

We encourage all poultry farmers to improve their biosecurity
Defra spokeswoman

Professor Oxford, a virologist at Barts and The London School of Medicine, said wild birds could be tempted to come down to feed with birds kept outside, and keeping domestic poultry inside or under cover would restrict the chances of that happening.

He said people who kept just a few chickens should do the same thing.


Professor Oxford called of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to do more.

"I think they are still sitting on their hands," he said.

"They have two responsibilities, and they are to protect our health and to protect that of animals."

Fears are growing about the spread of the H5N1 amongst wild birds.

So far, Russia, Turkey and Romania have all confirmed cases of the virus strain in birds.

The fear is that the bird flu virus will combine with a human flu, and mutate into a form which could cause a pandemic.

One aspect of preventing that from happening is attempting to prevent the virus spreading from wild birds to domestic flocks, which people are much more likely to have contact with.

But a spokeswoman for Defra said plans were already in place to protect domestic poultry.

"We encourage all poultry farmers to improve their biosecurity."

She pointed to advice to keepers to feed and water birds inside, to be vigilant when buying new stock and to immediately consult a vet if disease is suspected.


At least 60 people have died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Asia.

Experts say that - despite the virus being seen in Europe - any pandemic was likely to emerge in South East Asia, as that is where most birds are affected by H5N1 and where people have most contact with them.

However, Professor Oxford said the UK should still have plans in place so it was as well prepared as possible if a pandemic struck.

A vaccine against a pandemic strain can only be made when it emerges.

But Professor Oxford said the government should increase its order for a vaccine which currently exists against the H5N1 strain.

It is ordering 2-3 million doses of the vaccine.

But Professor Oxford said: "I don't see the objection to stockpiling more of a generic vaccine.

"Then we can have a refined version once we know the pandemic strain."

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "As the Chief Medical Officer said last week, we are not ordering more of the H5N1 vaccine because we don't yet know what the pandemic strain will look like."

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