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The presence of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been confirmed at a locality in the UK.
The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed the presence of the pathogen among swans in the Chesil Beach area of Dorset, in the southwest of the country.
In order to reduce potential further spread to neighbouring flocks and/or farms, Defra is setting up wild bird control and monitoring areas in Chesil Beach and nearby Portland Bill, using specialist ornithological advice.
Defra said despite the incident, current level of risk to humans from H5N1 avian influenza remained extremely low.
Nonetheless, Defra said any possibility of exposure was taken very seriously and it was working closely with the UK Health Protection Agency and local NHS partners to ensure all necessary actions were taken to protect anyone who might have been exposed to sick or dead birds.
Such actions included offering antiviral drugs and seasonal influenza vaccine to people who had been in close contact with infected swans.
Avian influenza, or “bird flu”, is a contagious disease of birds caused by viruses that infects wild birds and, rarely, other species, including domestic poultry.
Evidence from past H5N1 outbreaks shows that the virus does not easily infect people and there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.
The current level of risk to humans from avian flu is said to be extremely low.
Most human H5N1 infections so far have occurred through direct contact with live or dead infected poultry or very rarely via wild birds.