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Last Updated: Friday April 07 2006 15:36 GMT

Hotseat: Top vet answers your bird flu questions

Chickens
Lots of people are worried about the spread of bird flu, but how much do you actually know about the disease?

Well, we've put your questions you've been sending us to leading vet Dr Freda Scott Park about the subject that's been in the news so much lately.

There's a selection of your questions and Dr Scott Park's answers below.

And if you want to watch Laura or Lizo's full chat with her just click on the broadband player link top right, then click the Interviews tag.

My friend lives on a farm and her Dad is getting quite worried. If a bird on my friend's farm does get infected what will the precautions be? Abigail, 10, Derby

Well, the most important thing to remember at the moment is that the disease has only been found in wild birds and the really important thing is to make sure birds living on farms don't become infected. But to answer Abigail's question, if a bird on her friend's farm does become infected the State Veterinary Service will put a protection zone around the farm to stop it spreading.

Are you at risk if you feed ducks or swans at the local park? Louise, 15, Barnolsdwick

Absolutely not. We do know that the kind of birds you find in your local park are vulnerable to the virus but you'll be outdoors in the open air and you won't be at risk. It's important that if you do find a dead bird beside the pond that you don't go anywhere near it and that you report it to your Mum and Dad so that they can call the helpline.

Will we have to keep cats and dogs inside? Laura, 10, Berriew

Cats and dogs aren't really at risk . This is a disease of birds and wants to live in birds. But we do know that cats can attract the virus and it can live in cats so we're going to have to be careful. If the disease is found, as it has been in the swan in Cellardyke, we're going to have to ask pet owners in the area to be careful, keep their dogs on a lead and perhaps consider keeping their cats inside until we see where the virus is going.

Why did it take so long for the dead bird to be found and taken away? Sarah, 14, Cellardyke

The public have been fantastic reporting dead and sick birds and the State Veterinary Service have had to pick up loads and loads of dead carcasses. I think they've actually looked at well over a thousand dead birds.
Now you can imagine with that amount of reporting going on it's almost impossible to get there immediately. And it's really unfortunate that this bird was the one to have H5N1. We've got to make sure this doesn't happen again and I think everyone will be raising their game.

Is it safe to eat chicken and eggs? Sarah, 13, West Midlands

It's absolutely safe to eat poultry meat and eggs. I would always remind people that we must cook poultry properly and that's not because of avian influenza, that's because of the other bugs that chicken meat can carry. And eggs are safe too.
To be quite honest if a bird was to get avian influenza it would get so sick it wouldn't get anywhere near the food chain and neither would its eggs because the egg production just drops off immediately.

Will there be any vaccinations against bird flu? If so are there enough for everyone? And who will get them first? Sara, 15, Ross-on-Wye

It's a very difficult virus to vaccinate against because it keeps changing. There is a vaccine being prepared for humans but at the moment it's not available.

If bird flu does get passed to humans is there any cure? Sarah, 12, Hounslow

There isn't any magic cure. We know there's a drug that you can give to stop the symptoms getting too bad but unfortunately if humans get it it's really only their immune system that will fight the disease. But it hasn't shown any great desire to move into humans and we haven't seen it move into humans in Western Europe - we've got to hold onto that thought.

What's being done to help prevent the spread of the disease? Rebecca, 14, Bucks

The most important thing we have been telling poultry producers to do is feeding their birds and giving them water inside.
That means the wild birds aren't attracted to the food and water, as it's the wild birds that may very well bring the disease to the poultry.

How long will bird flu last? Kayleigh, 11, Torbay

The best way forward is to find the virus and make sure it doesn't spread. Now it's here we might have to tolerate living with the disease for a little bit. We hope we'll be able to get back to a disease-free status eventually.

Is bird flu deadly to humans? Charlie, 11, Leicestershire

Bird flu much prefers living in birds. It really doesn't want to live in any other species. In fact very few humans have caught the disease, and those who have, have been living in very close contact with their birds.

What are the symptoms? Eleanor, 13
The birds become very sick. They become very depressed and miserable. They're not feeling at all well, and their eyes and their head become very swollen and tears begin to come out of their eyes.
Their wattles under their chins and the cock's combs in the top of their head become blue instead of red. And in fact very soon after that the bird will die. It's a deadly disease for birds.

I keep chickens and I'm worried about them. What can I do to protect them? Sophie, 15, Staffordshire

The most important thing to remember is that birds that live outside are at higher risk than those who are kept in big houses. One of the ways forward that we are going to use to prevent the spread of bid flu is to ask people to bring their birds indoors.
So every poultry owner - no matter whether you're a big poultry owner or you only own one or two hens - is to make plans to bring them inside to protect them.

Will older, sick or weak people be more at risk than the strong? Jay, 13, Scotland
It's the older, and the young and the sick that are at greater risk of any disease, including the risk of bird flu. But I will remind you that bird flu doesn't really want to live in humans yet.

If it becomes an epidemic will people have to stay in their houses and miss school? Thomas, 12
Apart form the area where the virus is first found, life will continue as normal. And I am afraid school will too.


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