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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Bird flu 'will spread to the UK'
Bird
Dutch farmers have been told to keep birds inside
Avian flu will inevitably spread to Britain through wild migrating birds, the president of the British Veterinary Association has warned.

Dr Bob McCracken said water fowl, such as ducks and geese, would be most at risk, followed by free-range poultry.

UK officials are urging poultry keepers to ensure high levels of bio-security.

Following the discovery of the flu in Russia, the European Union called on members to step up checks on flocks of migratory birds.

The majority of our reared birds are still intensively reared and bred in large houses that are wild bird-proof
Dr McCracken
President of the British Veterinary Association

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said guidance on how to assess the risk of avian flu will be issued to vets and industry across Britain.

However, it was not advising British farmers to follow the Dutch government's example of advising that birds be kept inside.

Defra officials earlier said the risk of the virus spreading to the UK was very low and that taking the same steps as those recently undertaken in the Netherlands would be "disproportionate".

Dr McCracken, and the EU Commission, agreed with this advice, but said it was important that adequate surveillance was in place.

Speaking at a gathering of European vets, Dr McCracken said: "Wild birds that have migratory pathways over Europe and the UK will become infected. It is inevitable that bird flu will be carried to this country by migrating birds.

"The majority of our reared birds are still intensively reared and bred in large houses that are wild bird-proof. The danger is to free range birds and to backyard flocks."

Import bans

His calls for greater surveillance were mirrored by the European Commission spokesman for health and consumer protection, Philip Tod.

Speaking after the EU meeting on Thursday, Mr Tod also said EU poultry import bans would be enforced.

"The key to this problem is early detection and rapid action," he added.

The Commission, he said, would make financing available to facilitate monitoring but he did not give a figure.

The Dutch measures were put in place after an outbreak of a type of bird flu which has killed at least 57 people in South East Asia was confirmed in Russia.

If it got here, it would economically disastrous, never mind the human impact
Professor Hugh Pennington

There are grave concerns of a global pandemic stemming from the H5N1 type if it mutates into a form which could spread easily from human to human.

It is feared that up to 50 million people around the world could die in a flu outbreak, including more than 50,000 in the UK.

In the UK, every GP in the country has been issued with guidance on how to deal with a possible outbreak.

Professor Hugh Pennington, the scientist who led the investigation into Scotland's e-coli outbreak which killed more than 20 people, said the issue was "very, very serious".

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"This is a very nasty virus. It's doing enormous damage in the Far East at the moment. It's got into Russia.

"If it got here, it would be economically disastrous, never mind the human impact."

He also said an outbreak could claim more lives than the 250,000 lost in the UK - and the 40 million worldwide - when an influenza epidemic struck in 1918.

Farmers' leaders have also been meeting the government to discuss precautions against bird flu.




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Inside a poultry farm in Worcestershire



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