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3 February 2015, 16:25
Three people have been tested for bird flu as work begins to slaughter 10,000 chickens following an outbreak at a Hampshire farm.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said a ``low severity'' outbreak of avian flu has been confirmed in chickens in the village of Upham near Bishops Waltham.
It is understood that three people, including a Defra official, were tested for the disease after showing symptoms but were proved to be negative.
A 1km poultry restriction zone has been imposed and the birds at the commercial chicken breeding farm, which has not been named, are to be culled as part of action to prevent any spread of the disease.
The outbreak was confirmed last Friday following several deaths among the chickens, according to a source.
The outbreak has been identified as the H7 strain, which is described by officials as ``much less severe'' than the H5N8 strain found at a Yorkshire duck farm in November.
Defra said there are no links between the two cases while Public Health England said the risk to public health is very low.
There is no food safety risk for consumers, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens said: ``We have taken immediate action to contain this outbreak as part of our robust procedures for dealing swiftly with avian flu.
``This is a low severity form of the virus and we are taking action to ensure that the disease does not spread or develop into a more severe form. We are investigating the possible sources of the outbreak.
``I would urge poultry keepers in the surrounding area to be vigilant for any signs of disease and to ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises.''
Professor Nick Phin, director of PHE's Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance and Control, said: ``Based on what we know about this strain of avian influenza and the actions that have been taken, the risk to human health in this case is considered very low.''
An FSA spokesman said: ``On the basis of current scientific evidence, Food Standards Agency advice is that avian (bird) flu does not pose a food safety risk for UK consumers.
``Laboratory investigations on the outbreak indicate that it is the N7 sub-type of H7, but this will need to be confirmed in further testing.''
George Hollingbery, MP for Meon Valley, said the news was ``very concerning''.
He said yesterday: ``I've been liaising closely with Public Health England, based in Fareham, Hampshire County Council and Defra throughout today to ensure I'm kept up to date with developments.
``It appears that all precautions have taken place to ensure this problem is dealt with effectively and the experts are doing all they can to identify exactly what type of H7 strain it could be.
``Most importantly, I have been told that presently any danger to the public is very low and this is very welcome news. The strain is a mild one and is not similar to the recent outbreak at a duck farm in East Yorkshire.
``However, there is no doubt the authorities are taking it very seriously and regular updates will be issued in due course.''
Mr Hollingbery added that he had spoken to the owner of the farm and was impressed by the steps he had taken to identify the outbreak and contain it.
He said: ``I did talk at some length with the owner and he wanted to say what a great job all the agencies had done.
``He explained his systems were robust, they monitored production hourly and they showed a slight drop in production.
``They took samples from the flock, they rang alarm bells and he immediately notified PHE and Defra, so some praise is due to him as well as his systems plainly did work.''
Mr Hollingbery said that the cull would have a significant impact on the farmer's business.
He said: ``He is disappointed and clearly it is going to be a blow to any business to lose that amount of stock and while the staff do not become attached to the stock, they do care about them because they are your job.
``The owner seems to be someone who was taking a business-like view of things and a grown-up view of things.''
Mr Hollingbery said that the investigation is ongoing but he believed it unlikely that an exact cause of the outbreak would be identified.
He said: ``They are happy that the outbreak has been contained. It could have happened to anybody and no-one is of the expectation that a conclusive answer in any form can be found.''