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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Experts' bird flu answers
As tests are carried out on more birds after the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu was found in a dead swan in Scotland, animal and human health experts answer your questions.

I UNDERSTAND IT IS SAFE TO EAT COOKED CHICKEN BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PREPARATION AND HANDLING OF THE RAW MEAT?
Mrs Anne Edwards, West Stour, Dorset

Professor John Oxford, virologist at Barts and the London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry: There is no bird flu in chickens in the UK so it is perfectly safe to handle and prepare raw meat, taking the usual precautions.

SHOULD WE STOP FEEDING THE WILD BIRDS IN OUR GARDEN?
Jackie Flynn, Croydon, England

Andre Farrar, RSPB spokesman: The RSPB is advising that we should definitely continue to feed birds - and to provide nest boxes for them to use this spring.

The risks from bird flu are very small indeed - almost all the human cases have been in circumstances where people have been in close contact with infected poultry, people have not caught the virus directly from wild birds.

It is important to remember that good hygiene is vital at any time, by regularly cleaning bird feeders and bird tables we reduce the risk of other infections that affect wild birds directly and pose a risk to us. After feeding your birds or cleaning the places you feed them it is also important to wash your hands thoroughly.

MY DAUGHTER IS CONCERNED THAT OUR PET CATS WILL HAVE TO BE PUT DOWN. WILL THIS BE NECESSARY?
Helena, Horncastle

Dr Bob McCracken, former head of the British Veterinary Association:Under no circumstances do I see any government embarking on a programme of killing cats. Those fears are unfounded. We do know that cats have been infected with the virus, particularly if they eat infected birds, but the risk is very small.

WHAT DO YOU ADVISE THE SMALL POULTRY-KEEPER TO DO WITH REGARDS BIRD FLU?
Davina, Lincolnshire

Professor Oxford: I suggest you keep your chickens in their pen and put some form of cover or plastic over the roof so that no droppings from migrating birds could get inside, and keep a close eye on them.

WHAT ADVICE IS THERE FOR INLAND WATERWAYS USERS? CAN WE SWIM IN THE LAKES IN AREAS INHABITED BY DUCKS?
Janet N, Belfast

Dr Bob McCracken, former head of the British Veterinary Association: The virus is certainly present in droppings and we would be correct in assuming that some of those droppings will fall into our waterways. However, the dilution factor is massive and it is highly unlikely that an infective dose would be present in the water. Nevertheless people should be guided by the advice of the medical authorities.

DOES BIRD FLU AFFECT SEAGULLS?
Amber, Brighton

Andre Farrar, RSPB spokesman: Bird flu viruses can affect all bird species, this is true of H5N1.

The focus of attention has been on wildfowl (ducks geese and swans) because they are sensitive to the virus, often mix with domestic poultry in China and SE Asia and are implicated in some of the transfer of the virus between countries.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF MY PARROT CATCHING BIRD FLU?
Louise Bowen, Glenrothes, Fife

Professor Oxford: Practically zero because parrots are kept indoors and no one has ever reported the H5N1 virus in a parrot.

WHY HAS THE MOVEMENT OF SWINE NOT BEEN BANNED IN AFFECTED AREAS WHEN IT IS KNOWN THAT PIGS CAN CARRY THE VIRUS?
Rachel, Kincardine, Scotland

Dr Bob McCracken Defra are aware of this possibility and are continuing to carry out testing on outdoor pigs because of it. Whilst the risk is currently small, if that risk should increase then steps may be taken to stop the movement of pigs.

MY WIFE AND CHILDREN ARE DUE TO GO CARAVANING THREE MILES FROM CELLARDYKE. SHOULD THEY CANCEL?
John, Greenock

Dr Bob McCracken: You will need to check with the Defra authorities whether the campsite is still open and accessible.

If it is still open then I see no reason why people should stop going to certain parts of the UK. It is very difficult for a human being to catch bird flu, and personally I think it represents little risk.

I would take the usual hygienic precautions of not picking up dead birds or droppings of course.

I AM A SCOUT LEADER AND HAVE CANCELLED A CAMPING TRIP THIS WEEKEND. WAS THIS WISE? WHAT ABOUT FUTURE TRIPS?
Alistair Poole, of the 58th Fife South Park Scouts, Glenrothes

Professor Oxford: It was a reasonable decision to make until things settle down. I would wait and see what the restrictions are on the area and check with the authorities, but more likely than not it will be ok to be optimistic about your future trips.

CAN THE VIRUS BE SPREAD VIA BIRD FAECES?
Gemma Barron, Edinburgh

Professor John Oxford, virologist at Barts and the London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry: Yes, most definitely. It can be spread by bird to bird or from bird to human.

People should not go near droppings, and should wash their hands if they accidentally touch some.

But British Waterways added: "There are no known cases in the world of transmission of bird flu to humans as a result of contact with wild birds or their faeces."

IS THERE ANY CHANCE MY TODDLER COULD CATCH BIRD FLU WHEN I TAKE HER TO FEED THE DUCKS IN THE PARK?
Karen, Basingstoke, Hants

Dr Jim Robertson, of the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control: If you are taking your child to a petting zoo or park, you should follow good hygiene standards - that's the main thing to be aware of.

Wash hands afterwards. And don't pick up dead or sick birds.

IF I FIND A DEAD SWAN OR DUCK, WHO SHOULD I CALL?
Stuart Fell, Leamington Spa UK

Government advice - If you find one or more dead swans, ducks or geese, more than three dead birds of the same species - or more than five dead birds of different species, in the same place, you should contact the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

CAN THE VIRUS BE PASSED ONTO OTHER ANIMALS SUCH AS DOGS AND CATS?
Asked by Claire Hall, Leeds

Professor Oxford: Yes it can. But I would only recommend keeping cats indoors and dogs on leashes if there was an outbreak among chickens.

But overall, the general public shouldn't worry about dogs, or about feeding garden birds.

You have got to get up-close and snuggly with a bird to get ill.

COULD MY HORSE BE AFFECTED?

Dr Robertson: "In the same way that specific flu viruses affect humans, horses are also affected by particular kinds of flu (H3) - known as equine flu.

But there is no evidence that H5N1 has infected horses.

In the same way that it is extremely difficult to infect humans, the same is probably true for horses.

WHAT DOES A BIRD WITH BIRD FLU ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE?
Debbie Clark

Professor Oxford: A chicken will totter around and have bloodshot eyes because the virus affects their brain and organs. It kills them very quickly.

But a wild bird may show no signs whatsoever.

IS COST AN ISSUE IN DECIDING WHETHER TO VACCINATE?
Robin Hughes, Long Melford, UK

Professor Oxford: It is certainly a factor. A chicken might cost about 2 or 3 - about the same price as vaccinating it.

Organic chickens are more valuable. These are the birds that were vaccinated in Holland.

IF A HUMAN CATCHES BIRD FLU, WHAT ARE THEIR CHANCES OF SURVIVAL?
Joanne Sheppard, Salford, UK

World Health Organization - Figures from the WHO say 191 people have been infected, mainly in South East Asia. Just over half - 108 - have died.

I HAVE HANDLED AN INJURED PIGEON. AM I IN DANGER?
Craig Senior, Pontefract, West Yorkshire

Professor Oxford: Pigeons are not thought to be carriers. But again, it is best to wash your hands.

CAN PEOPLE PASS THROUGH THE EXCLUSION ZONE?
Johnny Forsythe, Antrim, Northern Ireland

Dr Bob McCracken, former president of the British Veterinary Association: The exclusion zone around where this bird has been found means there can be no movement of poultry, and poultry should be kept indoors.

If it was found in domestic flocks, the controls would be more stringent - so places where birds were kept would be inspected.

There is no reason why someone shouldn't go fishing.




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