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Brussels, 10 January 2008

Avian influenza H5N1 confirmed in three wild swans in the United Kingdom: authorities applying precautionary measures

The UK authorities have today informed the European Commission of the confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza in three wild swans at a bird sanctuary in Dorset. At the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, the UK delegation reported that laboratory tests carried out by the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge confirmed that it is the H5N1 strain of the virus. There have been no positive cases of H5N1 in wild birds in the EU since mid-August 2007.

However, during recent outbreaks in poultry, including the one in East Anglia last November, epidemiological investigations suggested that wild birds could be the origin of virus spread into farms. In response to the outbreak reported today, the UK authorities are applying the EU measures on highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds. These measures consist of the establishment of a control area and larger monitoring area around the positive finding, taking into account the geographical, ecological and epidemiological factors of the area in question. In the control area, on-farm biosecurity measures must be strengthened, the movement of poultry is banned except directly to the slaughterhouse, the dispatch of meat outside the zone is forbidden except where products have undergone the specific controls, hunting of wild birds is banned and disease awareness amongst poultry owners must be enhanced. These measures are aimed at preventing the spread of avian influenza from wild birds to poultry or other captive birds, as well as avoiding the contamination of products. However, EU legislation allows some flexibility to adapt the above measures to the local situation.

There are many aspects of avian influenza H5N1 that are still unknown, and the role of wild birds in the spread of the disease spread is not entirely clear. However, surveillance programmes for avian influenza are carried out in wild birds and on poultry holdings throughout the EU. Control measures are also in place to prevent the spread of infection to poultry holdings and to rapidly control the disease when outbreaks occur. These measures have proven effective during the outbreaks that occurred in several Member States in 2006 and 2007.
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