Potentially deadly bird flu strikes

The potentially deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found among turkeys at an East Anglian poultry farm after hundreds of turkeys died, the EU Commission confirmed today.

The potentially deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found among turkeys at an East Anglian poultry farm after 2000 turkeys died, the EU Commission confirmed today.

Scientists were called to the Bernard Matthews factory in Holton, near Halesworth, late on Thursday, and preliminary tests confirmed a bird flu outbreak Today this was confirmed as the H5N1 strain after tests were carried out at the European Union laboratory in Weybridge.

It is the second time in less than 12 months that an East Anglian poultry farm has been hit by bird flu, but the first time the H5N1 strain has been found. There are fears that this form of the virus may mutate into a form which could be passed between humans.

Emergency measures have been put in place to shut down the movement of poultry. Automatic measures include a 1.8 mile protection zone around the site, which must be in place for at least 21 days, and a monitoring area of at least a further 4.5 miles.

Poultry must be kept indoors and movement of poultry is banned, except directly to the slaughterhouse. Extra security measures are required in both zones.

The Environment Agency has opened an incident room and specialist staff will be drafted into the team to help coordinate a response to the crisis.

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Yesterday afternoon the plant was working as normal, with no exclusion zone visible from the outside, and with bus-loads of workers ferried from around Norfolk and Waveney converging on the former airfield site to start shifts.

The only evidence of precautions being taken was lorry drivers using disinfectant spray on their wheels as they left the site, where only a single shed is affected by the illness.

The outbreak comes just nine months after the poultry industry in East Anglia braced itself for disaster following a bird flu outbreak at three farms in North Tuddenham, near Dereham. Scientists later revealed that the disease was, in fact, the H7N3 strain of bird flu and not the H5N1 variety that has killed more than 100 people worldwide.

Bernard Matthews Foods, which employs more than 1,000 people at Holton, issued a statement last night: “Bernard Matthews can confirm that one of the sheds at its Holton site is being investigated by Defra but no further details on the situation can be provided until the investigation is completed.”