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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 17:44 GMT
Q&A: How the bird flu virus works
Virus expert Professor John Oxford explains why you cannot get bird flu from eating turkey and examines how the virus may have spread.

Did the virus come from Hungary?

There isn't a clear history yet. We still don't know where the outbreak in Hungary came from - there could be a third source. Also, new information keeps coming out. At first we were told that there was no physical connection between the factory in Suffolk and the outbreak in Hungary. Now we know that a huge volume of meat was transported from Hungary to Suffolk.

What is bio-security?

The virus spread because of a breakdown in bio-security. That means that in the processing plant in Suffolk the virus was spread from the area handling the dead birds from Hungary to another part of the plant containing live birds. The most likely cause is human contact - a worker who had the virus on their hands, clothing or shoes. It's essential that a worker going from one part of the plant to another showers and has a change of kit. You have to treat the environment in the same way you would an operating theatre in a hospital.

Is human contact the only possible cause of a breakdown in bio-security?

The only other ways the virus could have been spread are from wild birds or rodents getting into the plant - both of which seem unlikely because of the high standard of bio-security.

Has killing the infected turkeys destroyed the virus?

The infected birds have been safely disposed of and the hut where they were kept will have been disinfected with hot water and detergent but you have to get into every nook and cranny, which isn't easy. Time will also help to kill the virus - it could take months rather than weeks to get rid of it and as the weather gets warmer the virus will decay.

What lessons can be learned to prevent future outbreaks?

To break the chain of transmission it's a good idea to ban the import of products from the infected area until the outbreak is under control. It also makes sense to have independent lines in an abattoir for different kinds of birds - geese, turkeys, chicken and so on - and also perhaps for birds for different customers. That's going to be expensive but I would have thought it would be worthwhile protecting a 3 billion industry.

Who's at risk of coming into contact with the virus?

The 50,000 people who work in direct contact with geese, chicken and ducks in the UK. That compares with one billion in south east Asia, so most people here are at minuscule risk of coming into contact with the disease.

Which are the most infectious parts of a bird?

The corpse, insides, feathers and excreta from the bottom and beak can all contain the virus. There are 10 million viruses in just one gramme of droppings. Even if someone flung some droppings into someone's face they are still highly unlikely to get bird flu because there's a huge barrier on its ability to move between birds and humans.

Can you get bird flu from eating turkey?

One hundred percent not. Even if you ate raw turkey you still probably wouldn't be infected, the risk is so minuscule. That's because this is a bird virus that does not like humans but also because most people would cook a turkey and maintain high standards of hygiene - washing their hands and using clean work surfaces.


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