05 February 2007

Bird Flu in Suffolk - Surveillance Failure

New Scientist magazine asks why there was, in its words, a "surveillance failure" on the Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk.

The H5N1 virus that caused bird flu in poultry at a Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk in eastern England was probably carried to the area by wild ducks. But the British laboratory responsible for monitoring wild birds for avian flu detected almost none of the virus in samples taken from wild waterfowl in Britain in December 2006 and January 2007. This could be because its sampling technique has not changed since April 2006, when New Scientist revealed the methods used could be causing many samples to degrade before they could be tested. It could also be because the surveillance is targeting the wrong birds.
Farmers Weekly magazine says that farmers are questioning why portable incinerators were not used to dispose of the 160 000 turkeys.

Farmers Weekly has contacted a company which sells and hires out airburners, which has confirmed that it could have moved in equipment to incinerate the stock if asked to by DEFRA. Justin Kingwell of Kingwell Holdings said that he had access to at least eight airburners and each one could have processed the carcasses at a rate of five tonnes per hour.

“These machines were used during the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, so we know that they work, and the ash that is produced is inert so can be buried on site," he said.“Would it not have been better to incinerate the stock at the site of infection?” he said.

But DEFRA said that rendering has been chosen as the preferred method of disposal as it was the safest way to ensure that the virus was destroyed. The plant in question had been picked as it was much larger than normal incineration plants and therefore had the capacity to deal with the number of birds in question.
Finally, we're being told that the real avian flu problem is not here, it's in East and SE Asia. But there, the stocks of Tamiflu in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines are expiring by the end of 2007. So they face choices:

a) use up their stockpile on fighting normal seasonal flu (possibility of building immunity within the population to Tamiflu)
b) let it expire and spend millions of dollars to restock, rather than spending money on TB or AIDS
c) let it expire and don't restock (spin the wheel and hope a pandemic doesn't strike).

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