Human case of bird flu found in UK 'not a reason to worry' - Environment Secretary

  • Environment Secretary George Eustice on UK-first bird flu case in South West

A person who contracted bird flu in the South West is “making a good recovery" - the Environment Secretary has confirmed.

Public health officials revealed on January 6 that someone had acquired the infection after very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds.

Although seen elsewhere in the world, the strain of the bird flu identified in the South West of England has never before been confirmed in a human in the UK.

George Eustice, who is the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stressed the risk to the wider public remains low.

The infection is believed to have come from ducks (pictured: a stock image of ducks in a pond).

“There is no need to be worried about this,” he told ITV News.

“We do have a serious avian flu outbreak and there has been a very rare incident in the West Country of this infecting a human. 

“It’s a very unusual case. Thankfully, he has not developed symptoms and is making a good recovery.”

Bird to human transmission of avian flu is very rare and has only happened a small number of times in the UK.

All contacts of the individual, including those who visited the premises, have been traced and there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else. The individual is well and self-isolating, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

The agency was unable to provide further information about where exactly in the South West the case had been found.

What is bird flu and how does it spread?

Avian flu, also known as bird flu, is a type of influenza which spreads among birds.

The UK has recently seen a large number of outbreaks and incidents of avian influenza in birds across the country of the H5N1 strain and Animal and Plant health Agency (APHA) and the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer have issued alerts to bird owners. 

Some strains of bird flu can pass from birds to people, but this is extremely rare. It usually requires close contact with an infected bird, so the risk to humans is generally considered very low. Human to human transmission of bird flu is very rare.

The strain of the bird flu identified in the South West of England has never before been confirmed in a human in the UK.

The case was detected after APHA identified an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in the infected person's flock of birds.

UKHSA swabbed the person and detected low levels of flu. Further laboratory analysis revealed the virus was the ‘H5’ type, found in birds. At this point it has not been possible to confirm this is a H5N1 infection (the strain which is currently circulating in birds in the UK).

The World Health Organisation has been notified and the infected birds have all been culled.