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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 11:10 GMT
Vet tests negative for bird flu
Workers wearing protective clothing
Workers wearing protective clothing during the turkey cull
A vet who became ill after working on the Suffolk bird flu outbreak has tested negative for the disease, the Health Protection Agency has said.

He was taken to Nottingham's City Hospital as a precaution with a "mild respiratory illness". A spokeswoman said he was discharged on Wednesday.

The man tested negative for both bird flu and normal seasonal flu.

Almost 160,000 turkeys were culled after the outbreak on a Bernard Matthews farm in Holton.

'No risk'

Nottingham University Hospitals said in a statement that the vet was admitted "after complaining of mild non-specific symptoms" and was discharged following the HPA's confirmation that the tests were negative.

"As a precautionary measure, hospital staff followed all the necessary infection control measures and there was no risk to other patients in any part of the hospital," it said.

The Health Protection Agency said earlier that it was "highly unlikely" the man would have been contaminated because everyone involved would have taken antiviral drugs and worn "full protective clothing".

The HPA's Dr John Watson said: "It should be remembered that chest infections and fevers are common at this time of year when ordinary seasonal flu circulates."

Map showing main poultry locations in central and southern England

Clifford Warwick, a medical scientist and bird flu expert, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "definitely unlikely" the vet was contaminated with the bird flu virus.

Mr Warwick, a director of the Bio Veterinary Group consultancy, said people who worked closely with birds were subject to "fairly routine problems" such as an allergic reaction commonly known as "pigeon fanciers' cough", as well as a disease called psittacosis.

He said people contaminated with H5NI strain in the UK had a "reasonable" prospect of recovery.

"Our supportive care system is pretty good and it really does come down to that because there is no single panacea you can give to someone who has bird flu and cure the problem. It doesn't work that way," he said.

"You have to really try and maintain the body's system and hope they get over it."

Meanwhile, the Strategic Health Authority in East Anglia said there was no need to panic.

The H5N1 strain - which has caused dozens of human deaths in Asia - was found in the turkeys on the farm.

The H5N1 virus does not pose a large-scale threat to humans because it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

However, experts fear the virus could mutate at some point in the future and trigger a flu pandemic, potentially putting millions of human lives at risk.

A 3km (1.9 mile) protection zone and a 10km (6.2 mile) surveillance zone are in place around the Holton farm.

Poultry owners in a wider restricted zone, covering 2,090 sq km (807 sq miles) around Holton, have been told to keep their flocks isolated from wild birds.

Four countries - Japan, South Africa, South Korea and Hong Kong - have banned imports of UK poultry.

Senior vets from the 27 EU member states discussed the outbreak at a meeting on Tuesday, and later the European Commission said it was satisfied with the UK's response.

An international conference on the possibility of vaccination will take place in Verona in March.

Britain is Europe's second-largest poultry producer after France, with annual exports totalling 300m.

Bernard Matthews commercial director Bart Dalla Mura insisted there would be no adverse effect on the poultry industry.

He said consumers were "savvy enough" to see that the disease was being dealt with.

Bird flu map
Scene of outbreak
All poultry to be culled
Visitors disinfected and restricted access
3km Protection Zone
Poultry kept indoors and tested
10km Surveillance Zone
No movement of poultry to or from area except for slaughter
Trains carrying live poultry are prevented from stopping in the protection zone
Bird fairs and markets banned
Increased surveillance of wetland areas
Domestic birds not to share water used by wild birds
Footpath restrictions likely only on free-range farms
People in towns not affected unless they keep poultry.
Restriction Zone
Isolation of poultry from wild birds
Poultry movements to be licensed
Source: Defra

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