A dead swan found in Scotland may be Britain's first case of bird flu.

Times Online April 06, 2006

If the dead swan tests for H5N1, it would be the first time the strain has been found in a wild British bird since the epidemic began [[Why the weirdos at The Times have used a photo of swans on a lake under the cloud from the burning Buncefield oil depot is something of a mystery]](John Giles/PA)

Bird flu swan carcass 'floated for days' in harbour
By Simon Freeman and David Lister

A swan feared to have brought the deadly strain of avian flu to British shores was found dead on a harbour slipway more than a week ago, it emerged today.

Locals reported that the bird's carcass had been seen washing in on the tide in the harbour of Cellardyke, Fife, before being collected. Some described how it had been pecked at by seagulls.

Preliminary investigations at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Weybridge, Surrey, have revealed that the bird was infected with the H5 subtype of the disease. The scientific and agricultural community is today awaiting the results of detailed tests to confirm whether it was carrying the highly pathogenic H5N1 form.

If the results are positive, it would be the first time the strain has been found in a wild British bird since the epidemic began and could have a crippling effect on the domestic poultry industry. It remains unclear whether the infected bird is a domestic mute swan or a migratory whooper swan.

Cellardyke, a picturesque village near St Andrew's, will remain under isolation until the tests have been completed. Free-range farmers in Fife have been told to bring their stock indoors while the rest of Scotland has been put on standby.

Checkpoints have been set up to prevent the transport of farmed birds across a 3km (1.8 mile) exclusion zone, in accordance with the European Union's strategy to prevent spread of the disease.

Cobra, the Government’s crisis management committee, will meet today as senior civil servants from the departments of Health, Defra and the Cabinet Office prepare contingency plans.

Dan Young, 45, who reported the bird to authorities, described finding “a mangled heap of feathers”. The St Andrews University researcher, whose work includes aspects of virology, said he had been alerted by a friend, who said he thought a heron was lying in the harbour.

“I went and had a look and it was obviously not a heron. I contacted Defra and within an hour the duty vet got back to me asking where it was and saying they would pick it up,” he said.

Mr Young added: “It had obviously been dead for a while, a few days probably.
It looked like a mangled heap of feathers. It had been in the water for a while. It had obviously been pecked at or eaten by something. It was torn open.”

Sergeant Martin Johncock of Fife Police said that the body of the bird had been taken away for tests last Wednesday.

He said: "We are stopping vehicles which could be used to carry any form of poultry or poultry products such as eggs which could potentially come from infected birds within the area.

"There are no large bird-rearing areas or anything similar in this particular area but we are just making sure that everything just stays confined until we hear the results of the tests."

Locals in Cellardyke said that they had seen the dead bird floating in the harbour for several days.

Richard Ingram and Aileen Bracken, whose house overlooks the harbour said their three children had been playing on the beach near to where the swan was found.

Mr Ingram, 34, said: "Somebody local saw it and took the precaution of putting up a makeshift notice to say not to touch the bird until it was taken away.

"They contacted Defra and it was removed pretty quickly afterwards - I’d say within 24 hours. In the week since we haven’t thought anything about it until last night when we heard about the bird flu scare on the 10 o’clock news."

Catherine Richardson, 20, who works at a harbour restaurant, said: "A woman saw the swan getting pecked by seagulls, that was a few days ago."

The surveillance zone is likely to include between 10 and 20 poultry producing farms of various sizes, James Withers, of the Scottish National Farmers’ Union, said last night.

"Fife is not the biggest poultry farming area of Scotland but there are poultry farms everywhere," he said. "Units would vary in size from between 500 to 40,000 head of fowl."

A national bird flu readiness test called Exercise Hawthorn that began yesterday was halted last night to enable animal health experts to concentrate on the potential outbreak in Scotland.

Debby Reynolds, the United Kingdom’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said: "I brought to an end the national avian influenza exercise to ensure that we can bring all our resources to bear on this situation." Movement restrictions were imposed on a poultry farm in Orkney last month after 100 birds were found dead while the farm’s owner was on holiday. But tests found no evidence of avian flu.

There have been more than 40 suspected cases of bird flu investigated in Britain since the start of the year. Until now none has tested positive.

Scientists have long considered it a matter of time before H5N1 reaches Britain, and even if the swan is found not to have died of the strain it is likely to spread here soon. Cases have been confirmed in France and Germany, where an outbreak on a turkey farm in Saxony was also announced yesterday. H5 flu strains have been reported on rare occasions in Britain, most recently in 1991 when H5N1 was identified in turkeys.


If the bird is found to have died of H5N1:

All poultry kept on a premises confirmed as infected will be culled. Culling or "slaughter on suspicion" may be ordered at a premises if there is a strong suspicion of avian flu and a high likelihood that it could spread

Farmers within a 1.8 mile radius protection zone will be required to house their poultry. Free-range farmers who are forced to bring birds indoors may keep their free-range status for a limited period

Within a surveillance zone of six miles, vets will check birds for any signs of bird flu, and movement of eggs and poultry will be restricted

A short-term national movement ban on birds and hatching eggs will be brought in as a precaution while the outbreak is investigated. Low risk movements would still be permitted under licence

Premises in areas where birds are at low risk of exposure to the virus will have restrictions imposed for 21 days while checks are carried out

Mass vaccination is not expected to be part of Britain’s response. The Scottish Chief Veterinary Officer says that it will be considered "right from the start" but does not believe it will be pursued at this stage. Professor Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, has said that vaccination could mask signs of the spread of the disea