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Public urged not to touch sick or dead birds

Two swans

 The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has now confirmed there is avian influenza A (H5N1) in wild bird populations in Worcestershire and the Stratford area of Warwickshire.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is now urging people in Worcestershire and Warwickshire not to touch any sick or dead wild birds – with avian flu confirmed in the swan populations around Diglis Basin in Worcester and in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon.

The UKHSA, Worcester City Council and Stratford District Council is working with APHA and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to manage the situation and protect public health and the risk to other birds.

The A(H5N1) avian influenza strain was first diagnosed in birds at a wild bird rescue centre near Droitwich last week. Swans at the Diglis Basin in Worcester became sick, with this same strain of avian flu confirmed. Dead birds were collected from around the River Avon in Stratford town centre and sent to APHA's laboratory for testing, and the same strain of avian flu has been confirmed in this population also.

The A(H5N1) strain is highly pathogenic to other birds, but the risk to human health is considered very low. It is vital that people do not touch sick live birds or bird carcasses, and infection control measures may be necessary if they do.

Angela Cartwright, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control with the UKHSA in the West Midlands. said: "The risk to the public from this strain of avian flu is very low, however it is important that people do not touch any sick or dead birds. As a precaution, anyone who was not wearing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) while in contact with the droppings or birds in an area where the infection has been confirmed, will require close monitoring and a course of antiviral medication for 10 days from last contact with infected birds."

In areas where the infection has been confirmed or is suspected, anyone who has been in contact with sick or dead birds or their droppings, while not wearing the correct PPE, should make sure any footwear is properly cleaned and thoroughly wash their hands in soap and water. They should then notify the UK Health Security Agency's West Midlands Health Protection Team on 0344 225 3560 so that public health experts can determine if antiviral medication and active surveillance of their condition is necessary. If someone handled infected birds while wearing adequate PPE, they must still undergo active surveillance.

Following a number of detections of avian influenza (bird flu) in wild birds across Great Britain, the Chief Veterinary Officers from England, Scotland and Wales have declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across the whole of Great Britain, to mitigate the risk of the disease spreading amongst poultry and captive birds.

Councillor Andy Stafford, Chair of Worcester City Council's Environment Committee, said: "Worcester City Council has acted swiftly to fence off the area around the city's swan sanctuary, and I would like to ask people not to feed the swans until this outbreak is under control. Feeding encourages them to congregate and that increases the risk of the disease spreading. If you find a dead bird, let us know on our report it page or on 01905 722 233. Do not touch or move dead birds and keep dogs away from them."

Councillor Christopher Kettle, Community Protection Portfolio from Stratford District Council, said: ""The outbreak of avian flu in the wild bird population, including swans on the River Avon, is obviously of concern to residents.

"The UKHSA has made it clear that the risk of the disease transferring from birds to humans is considered to be very low. To ensure this situation remains, the advice we have received is that members of the public should not touch or go near sick or dying birds and any dead birds found should be reported to the District Council on 01789 267 575 to assist with disposal.

"The UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers. Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat.

"We are also looking to put up posters in the area to ask people not to feed the ducks or swans and remind people to keep to footpaths and to keep dogs on leads."

Anyone who sees sick wildfowl should contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. If you see any dead wildfowl in the Stratford area contact Stratford District Council on 01789 267 575 in office hours and 01926 339 577 out of hours. Anyone who sees dead wildfowl in the Worcester area should contact Worcester City Council on worcester.gov.uk/reportit.

Outside these areas, anyone who sees sick or dead birds by waterways or on your private land, please do not touch them at any cost and call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

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