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Bird flu hits Europe

Two outbreaks of bird flu are making the headlines: An egg laying hen farm in the Netherlands and a duck breeding farm in the UK using an indoor system.

Bird flu confirmed in the Netherlands

A highly contagious strain of bird flu has been discovered at a poultry farm in the Netherlands.

The strain, H5N8 could potentially affect people. “The disease can be transmitted from animals to humans." the Dutch government said in a statement.

150,000 hens on the farm will be culled and the government has imposed a three day nationwide ban on the transportation of poultry and eggs.

Bird flu outbreak in the UK

A case of bird flu has been confirmed on a duck breeding farm in East Yorkshire.

A Defra spokesperson told the BBC: "We have confirmed a case of avian flu on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire - the public health risk is very low and there is no risk to the food chain.”

It is reported that 6,000 ducks on the farm will be culled and a 10km exclusion zone is in place to contain the outbreak.

Although Defra has said there is a low risk to humans, it is not yet clear which strain of bird flu is present.

Intensive farming and bird flu

Bird flu is often grouped into two strains, a high pathogenic strain and a low pathogenic strain. The high pathogenic strain is more serious. Keeping a large number of birds intensively puts birds under stressful conditions and could increase the risk of a highly pathogenic strain.

In intensive farms, thousands of birds are kept crowded together indoors. This causes stress, which can make the birds more vulnerable to infection. An intensive poultry farm provides the optimum conditions for viral mutation and transmission – thousands of birds crowded together in a closed, warm and dusty environment is highly conducive to the transmission of a contagious disease. 

Human pandemic?

As our demand for meat and animal products has increased, so has the number of farm animals. This explosion in farm animal numbers combined with the geographical concentration of intensive poultry farms and the transport of animals over long distances is facilitating the emergence of new strains of viruses that could cause a human pandemic, with potentially devastating consequences.