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Control of Bird Flu Virus in UK

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The object of this paper is to provide an assessment of how the government of the United Kingdom is combating the spread of the bird flu virus, and how it is preparing for a possible pandemic that can result in numerous human fatalities.

All over the world, the bird flu, also known as avian influenza, has caused alarm and continues to present a looming threat of a flu pandemic. The deadly H5N1 strain has maintained a 100% mortality rate among infected birds and has resulted in governments destroying millions of birds in an attempt to thwart further infection. The main concern lies in the fact that bird flu can infect people and has infected and killed some people who been affected by having contact with infected birds.

Control of Bird Flu Virus in UK

Sturcke and Batty (2006) report stated that as many as 46 countries had recorded bird flu cases in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas Bird flu is not only a health concern but also a major economic threat. Freeman (2005) stated, “The UK has about 120 million poultry worth £ 1.3 billion a year including chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Approximately 25% of the egg-laying flock is kept outdoors and about 10% of the chickens raised for meat are free-range. “(Sturcke, J. & Batty, D., 2006. Q&A: Bird flu [online], The Guardian, 27 April, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0, 1591620, 00.html)

Boseley and Watt (2005 ) reported that after a meeting of EU veterinarians on the issue of bird flu, the President of the British Veterinary Association stated that bird flu would inevitably arrive in the United Kingdom … [and] there is a small but real danger that migrating wild birds might bring us a highly dangerous virus strain. (Boseley, S. & Watt, N. Vets say the arrival of bird flu in the UK is inevitable [online], The Guardian, 26 August, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0,14207,1556846,00.html)

Sturcke and Batty reported incidents of the bird flu virus in the UK in a 2006 report. In Cellardyke, a dead swan was found, and a parrot died in a quarantine zone in Essex. Both events occurred in 2005, and both birds were found to have died from the H5N1 virus. In a farm west of Norwich, several chickens were found to have tested positive of the less deadly H7 strain of bird flu, which also infects humans. (Sturcke, J. & Batty, D., 2006. Q&A: Bird flu [online], The Guardian, 27 April, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0, 1591620, 00.html)

The alarm and threat of a widespread bird flu infection have prompted the UK government to take various measures in an attempt to prevent such a pandemic. BBC News (2006) reported that one such step was the UK’s ban on imports of live chickens from Croatia, Turkey, Romania, Russia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa and North Korea, where there have been bird flu outbreaks. (BBC News, 2006. Britain’s bird flu preparations [online]. viewed 14 May 2006, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4602144.stm>.)

The finding of dead swans in Fife and Scotland prompted the government to create a vast exclusion zone to prevent any further spread of the bird flu virus. Henderson, Macleod, and English (2006) reported that a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone was set up, stretching from the Forth Road Bridge, north of Edinburgh, to Stonehaven in the northeast and Perth in the northwest. It dramatically expands the 3km (1.8 miles) radius protection zone and 10km (6.2 miles) surveillance zone established around Cellardyke. (Henderson, M., Macleod, A., & English, S., 2006. 1,000 sq mile exclusion zone set up to combat the risk of virus spreading [online], The Times, 07 April, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2122749,00.html)

About 3.1 million domestic birds are kept in this exclusion zone on about 175 poultry farms and would require owners of 48 free-range farms to bring their 260,000 birds indoors or take measures to ensure that they have can have no contact with wild birds. The directive will also prohibit bird markets and shows in the area, and provides for enhanced disease surveillance of wild birds. (Ibid.)

Other acts include stockpiling of Roche’s anti-flu drug Tamiflu; however, as Freeman reported in 2005, “Britain has enough drugs to treat a quarter of the population, but experts argue That money would be better spent on preventing the disease from spreading than on stockpiling cures “(Freeman, S., 2005). The spread of bird flu virus is a ‘national emergency’ [online], The Times, 25 August, viewed 14 May 2006,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0, 13509-1749943, 00.html)

Morelle (2006) reported that the UK’s Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) action plan in combating avian influenza includes temporary measures such as enforcing all bird owners to keep their pets indoors, imposing a national movement ban on all poultry and hatching eggs, but does not encourage widespread vaccination since the bird flu can still infect vaccinated birds. (Morelle, R., 2006. Planning for bird flu in the UK [online], The BBC, 06 April, viewed 14 May 2006, < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4744180.stm>)

Other preventive measures include a massive culling of birds, which is fraught with controversy and is taking heat from animal welfare groups. Elliott (2006) reported that Parliament had received drafts of emergency legislation that would give the Rural Affairs Secretary the power to order “ventilation shutdown” at chicken farms. This would remove oxygen flow from chicken houses, and effectively suffocate the chickens to death. Representatives from Animal Welfare groups much criticized the law as being inhumane. (Elliott, V., 2006. Vets track spread of bird flu strain [online], The Times, 02 May, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2160597,00.html)

Keeping the key sectors safe such as the BBC and individual government offices, are also a priority. Templeton and Calvert (2006) reported that different members of Britain’s elite had been selected as priority cases to receive scarce pills and vaccinations at the taxpayers’ expense if a deadly bird flu outbreak hits the country. These included the Department of Health’s health workers, individual senior ministers, and members of the BBC. The BBC was involved since, as media, it would be required to broadcast vital information during a national disaster. (Templeton, S.K., & Calvert, J., 2005. Britain’s elite got pills to survive bird flu [online], The Sunday Times, 08 August, which was viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1753892,00.html)

The same report stated that London Mayor Livingstone spent as much as £1m to make sure his office and employees have their emergency supplies of 100,000 antiviral tablets. (Ibid.)

If a pandemic has occurred, the action plans of the UK government as reported by Sturcke and Batty (2006), include the following:

The Department of Health (DoH) would have the primary responsibility for coordinating the UK’s emergency response, with the support of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) – the UK-wide authority responsible for combating the spread of infectious disease. The DoH would establish a national operations room to support the local response to outbreaks and coordinate vaccine distribution to affected areas.

Devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been asked to coordinate the response in their regions. The HPA has also published an updated influenza pandemic contingency plan, which makes up part of the DoH’s overall strategy.

In the event of a pandemic, the HPA would set up a strategic emergency coordination center. It would coordinate clinical surveillance, provide infection control advice, analyze flu strains, and issue information to the public and healthcare professionals. It would also advise the DoH regarding vaccine use. (Sturcke, J. & Batty, D., 2006. Q&A: Bird flu [online], The Guardian, 27 April, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0, 1591620, 00.html)

In conclusion, I believe that the actions of the British government in response to the bird flu incidents and the looming threats of a pandemic are proper and in order. Despite criticism that the effects are too costly and are, in some cases, unwarranted signs of paranoia, the acts of the government are necessary to prevent further avian or human deaths. In fact, as Elliott (2006) reports, scientists have found through blood samples from birds culled in Norfolk show they had the H7N3 virus for longer than was initially thought. This is merely further proof that the virus may exist in more places than earlier suspected and that acts of prevention in those places have not yet been conducted. (Elliott, V., 2006. Vets track spread of bird flu strain [online], The Times, 02 May, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2160597,00.html)

Although Arthur (2005) criticizes the scientific community’s uproar over the threat of a bird flu pandemic and that the media and government have begun to over-hype the danger, I believe that indeed as the proverb says, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”. And with the millions of birds being destroyed and culled, the increase in expenditures in educational materials and safety measures, and the import ban of birds from infected countries are all worth the trouble if indeed one British life may be saved. (Arthur, C., 2005. Bird flu: we’re all going to die [online]. The Register, 02 June, viewed 14 May 2006, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/06/02/bird_flu/)

Works Cited;

  • Arthur, C., 2005. Bird flu: we’re all going to die [online]. The Register, 02 June, viewed   14 May, 2006, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/06/02/bird_flu/
  • BBC News, 2006. Britain‘s bird flu preparations [online]. viewed 14 May, 2006,          <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4602144.stm>.
  • Boseley, S. & Watt, N., 2005. Vets say arrival of bird flu in UK is inevitable [online], The Guardian, 26 August, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0,14207,1556846,00.html
  • Elliott, V., 2006. Chickens could be suffocated in flu outbreak [online], The Times, 04 May, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2164281,00.html
  • Elliott, V., 2006. Vets track spread of bird flu strain [online], The Times, 02 May, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2160597,00.html
  • Freeman, S., 2005. Spread of bird flu virus is a ‘national emergency’ [online], The Times, 25 August, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1749943,00.html
  • Henderson, M., Macleod, A., & English, S., 2006. 1,000 sq mile exclusion zone set up to combat risk of virus spreading [online], The Times, 07 April, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,25149-2122749,00.html
  • Morelle, R., 2006. Planning for bird flu in the UK [online], The BBC, 06 April, viewed  14 May, 2006, < http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4744180.stm>
  • Sturcke, J. & Batty, D., 2006. Q&A: Bird flu [online], The Guardian, 27 April, viewed 14 May, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/birdflu/story/0,,1591620,00.html
  • Templeton, S.K., & Calvert, J., 2005. Britain’s elite get pills to survive bird flu [online],  The Sunday Times, 08 August, viewed 14 May, 2006,      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1753892,00.html

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