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Written - Avian Flu

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Jane Davidson, Minister For Sustainability And Rural Development
  1. I would like to provide an update on the events surrounding the recent case of low pathogenic avian influenza (AI) near Corwen in North Wales. On 17 May, a private veterinary surgeon contacted the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), Shrewsbury, Animal Health (AH), Caernarfon and Defra, following the deaths of 10 chickens over a number of days on a farm near Corwen.  Late that day he sent three chickens to Shrewsbury for testing and samples were then sent to VLA Weybridge for further tests. This work was routine investigation as there was no suspicion of an avian notifiable disease.
  2. On the morning of 23 May, VLA notified Defra that preliminary results indicated the presence of the H7 strain of avian influenza. Defra notified Welsh Assembly Government officials. The farm in Corwen was placed under restrictions, samples were taken and a clinical inspection of the remaining birds carried out. AH began tracing the birds back to Chelford market and investigating premises that had also received birds from that day’s market. Amongst other birds sold were 11 ducklings taken to premises in St Helens, Lancashire, some of which died.
  3. By this stage, a person who had also attended Chelford market was admitted to hospital with an influenza-like illness and on 16 May one of the keepers of the ducklings was also admitted with similar symptoms. The ducklings appeared healthy and tested negative for AI.
  4. On the afternoon of 23 May, the Chief Veterinary Officers for Wales and UK decided that the remaining birds on the premises should be slaughtered on suspicion of AI.  From first notification of H7 avian influenza in the birds in Corwen, and with no other information on the strain or its pathogenicity, it was agreed that a strict public health protocol be applied.  
  5. NPHS Wales led the public health response in liaison with the Chief Medical Officer and collaboration with the Health Protection Agency. Pre-exposure prophylactic antiviral Oseltamivir was offered to those who would potentially be exposed during the outbreak investigation and control operations, and immediate treatment provided to anyone who had been exposed to infected birds since the onset of symptoms of disease in the flock.  By 24 May, seven people were under investigation having reported flu-like illness and contact with two premises with sick birds. Four of these tested positive for influenza A and two of these were also positive for H7 infection. All four were considered confirmed cases of infection associated with this outbreak and three had been hospitalised and were recovering.  As it was unclear whether all cases were the result of contact with sick birds the possibility of person to person spread could not be ruled out. Overall during the outbreak over 360 people were identified as possible contacts or cases associated with this outbreak, though only four cases of infection were confirmed.
  6. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm was briefed, and an alert for WHO and for dissemination through the EU Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) was produced.
  7. Early on 24 May the VLA confirmed the results as low pathogenic H7N2 AI and the CVO Wales confirmed disease. The Welsh Assembly Government immediately imposed a 1km restricted zone around the infected premises.
  8. AH alerted poultry keepers on the Great Britain poultry register.  A Local Disease Control Centre, Caernarfon, and National Disease Control Centre were established to co-ordinate the response by all parties including the Welsh Assembly Government, Defra, the Department of Health, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), the National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHSW) and other agencies.   Wales established their Co-ordination Centre to co-ordinate the human and animal health issues.
  9. On 24 May the remaining birds on the premises were culled. The Welsh Assembly Government, Scotland and England also banned gatherings chickens and ducks.
  10. An official-level meeting of the Civil Contingencies Committee (COBR) was convened to ensure cross-Government co-ordination.
  11. AH has investigated a very large number of tracings and taken samples. The majority of samples tested have been negative. Infection has been confirmed in samples from a small flock in the Preston area, which has been placed under restrictions. A 1km restriction zone has been put in place.  Neither HPA nor NPHS-W has found any further human cases of disease and we are now past the normal 21 day incubation period since 7 May. Bird gatherings of chickens and ducks were permitted again on 1 June.
  12. Unless there are any more cases, the Welsh Assembly Government intends to lift the restricted zone around in Corwen on 15 June, which is the required period of 21 days.
  13. The epidemiology of the outbreak is under investigation and a report will issue when this is complete.