Bird Flu Outbreak On Our Doorstep

This week Suffolk Owl Sanctuary has found itself near to the eye of a national storm as avian influenza has been found on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, virtually on our doorstep. We thought you might like to know how will it affect us.

At the beginning of the week, DEFRA confirmed an outbreak of deadly H5N1 form of "bird flu" virus at Redgrave Park Farm, a free-range poultry farm about 15 miles north of us.

Fred Landeg, the acting Chief Veterinary Officer, confirmed the strain - which has swept across Asia, Europe and Africa since 2003 - is potentially dangerous to humans and added: "The initial sequence data suggests that the outbreak is closely related to outbreaks in the Czech Republic and Germany, which indicates a possible wild bird source. However, at this stage all potential sources of the origin will be investigated."

The Environment Minister Hilary Benn briefed MPs on the outbreak, warning them more cases could be discovered in the area. A cull of all 5,000 poultry at the infected farm has been completed and the cull of a further 22,000 birds at other farms operated by the same company has begun. A 3km protection zone and 10km surveillance zone were set up yesterday around the area

All free-range birds for meat and eggs in Suffolk and part of Norfolk must be locked indoors to protect them from the spread of the virus.  Hobby farmers with backyard flocks are also being visited by local animal health officers who are urging them to keep birds inside.

Bird viruses do not usually infect humans but some people who have been in close contact with infected birds have died. Scientists are worried that avian flu will mutate and spread from person to person, infecting larger numbers of people.

But Veterinary Office Landeg said people should not be worried about contracting the human form of the virus: "This particular strain of virus has on rare occasions passed to human beings, particularly in the Far East, where poultry workers have had very close contact with sick and diseased birds. The general public needn't worry about contact with the birds. Spread to humans is not very common and no human has contracted the disease in Western Europe."

So how will the bird flue outbreak affect us here at SOS? For the moment, we are following DEFRA Guidelines and placing disinfectant foot-baths at all out entrances and exits for our visitors to use in the hope that it will significantly reduce the possibility of our bird collection becoming infected. 

We have also cancelled all out-shows and are not moving birds or accepting wild injured birds into the centre as recommended by DEFRA until advised that it is safe so-to-do.

Other than that, we are remain vigilant of the threat and will continue to operate as normal here at SOS.