Britain is confronting Europe's biggest outbreak of bird flu with a massive culling of turkeys -- and worried consumers are asking whether the disease will hit humans next.
Experts are trying to spread the word that conditions in Britain are so different from Asia and Africa that the chances of human infection is infinitesimal. They also stress that no human bird flu cases have ever been traced to eating properly cooked poultry or eggs.
"At the moment in the United Kingdom, the general public still have more chance of winning the lottery than getting bird flu," said Jim Robertson, a virologist at Britain's national institute for biological standards and control.
For Bernard Matthews PLC -- whose turkeys were infected by the H5N1 strain at its Suffolk farm -- the economic consequences could be devastating. Britain's largest poultry producer has had to slaughter 159,000 turkeys; while the company refuses to release a figure, experts say damages could run into the millions of dollars if the problem is not quickly solved.
Sales may also be hurt -- not only at Bernard Matthews, but throughout the entire poultry industry, worth an estimated ?3.4 billion (US$6.7 billion) a year in Britain.
Bernard Matthews has an annual turnover worth ?400 million, and like other poultry producers, it is now feverishly working to reassure consumers that eating fowl is safe.
Three of Britain's major supermarket chains have so far reported no change in poultry or egg sales following the H5N1 outbreak.
But previous bird flu outbreaks in Europe have hit the market hard. After a bird flu outbreak on a French farm last year, poultry consumption in France fell by 30 percent. And in Romania, which has had repeated H5N1 outbreaks, consumption dropped by nearly 80 percent.
Charles Bourns, chairman of the National Farmers' Union poultry board, urged shoppers not to boycott poultry.
"Just keep eating chicken and enjoying it," he said. "There is no danger from it. This is a disease of chickens and not of humans."
Bernard Matthews had already been shaken by criticism from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who last year called its product "turkey twizzlers" -- a kind of fried turkey jerky -- a symbol of Britain's inability to feed its children properly.
A total of 2,500 turkeys initially were killed last week by the H5N1 virus. Health authorities have imposed restriction and surveillance zones around the farm, requiring that poultry be isolated from wild birds and restricting movement in and out of the zones.
Across Britain, traditional events from falconing to pigeon racing have come under an official ban.
H5N1 remains primarily an animal disease, and has only rarely infected humans. Since the strain began circulating widely in late 2003, hundreds of millions of birds have either died or been slaughtered because of the virus, and millions of people have been exposed.
To date, 165 people have been identified as having died of H5N1, according to the World Health Organization. International public health experts believe the strain is currently the leading candidate to evolve into a form capable of igniting a human flu pandemic, which could kill millions worldwide.
While the H5N1 virus found in Britain is similar to that seen recently in Hungary -- and in Asia and Africa -- the resources available to respond to the Suffolk outbreak dramatically reduce the chances of humans getting sick.
Britain's H5N1 outbreak was detected at a large commercial farm, where the turkeys were kept indoors in a shed. In Asia, the widespread practice of backyard farming, where families live with chickens or ducks in their homes, is a major factor in the ongoing H5N1 threat to humans.
British workers involved in the turkey culling operations have also been offered Tamiflu and seasonal flu vaccines. There are only about a dozen people taking part in the culling of the birds, who are currently being monitored by doctors. No one has been reported ill from the H5N1 outbreak.
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
‘CHAPITOS’: An ex-DEA agent said the sons of the former cartel head are engaged in a battle for control, with the health of the man temporarily in charge a factor The fight for control of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s legacy spilled into the open on Thursday after a gun battle between rival Mexican gangs left 16 dead, authorities said. The 16 men, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, died in a six-hour running shootout near the rural town of Tepuche in northwestern Sinaloa province. “A van with seven bodies was located” after an initial clash, while nine bodies were discovered following a second exchange, Sinaloa Minister of Security Cristobal Castaneda told reporters. Castaneda said that Wednesday’s clash near Tepuche, 25km from the capital of Sinaloa, Culiacan, was “part of a struggle