Two Brits are struck down with bird flu

Two Brits are struck down with bird flu but health chiefs insist there’s no proof killer virus is spreading between humans

  • Two poultry workers  tested positive for the virus after visiting an infected farm
  • Read more: Fears as virologists discover bird flu spreads ‘efficiently’ in ferrets

Two British poultry workers have tested positive for bird flu, UK health officials have confirmed. 

Both workers tested positive this month after working on an infected farm in England and were detected during routine monitoring.

Neither of the workers experienced any symptoms of avian influenza and have since tested negative for the virus. 

Health officials said one of the persons infected likely tested positive for bird flu after inadvertently inhaling infected material, like faeces, from diseased animals. 

But they added how the second person had come into contact with the virus was currently unclear.

The new cases come after Alan Gosling (pictured), a retired engineer in Devon, caught the virus after his ducks, some of which lived inside his home, became infected in 2022

UK scientists tasked with developing ‘scenarios of early human transmission’ of bird flu have warned that five per cent of infected people could die if the virus took off in humans (shown under scenario three).  Under another scenario, the scientists assumed 1 per cent of those infected would be hospitalised and 0.25 per cent would die — similar to how deadly Covid was in autumn 2021 (scenario one). The other saw a death rate of 2.5 per cent (scenario two)

While investigations are underway The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said ‘precautionary’ contract tracing is underway for the second individual. 

Officials added that there is no evidence the disease is spreading from person to person and the overall risk to the public remains low. 

They also said the cases don’t necessarily represent genuine infections of bird flu.

Instead, the workers could have inhaled virus infected matter, like bird faeces, which then became stuck in their nostrils or throat and was picked up by the testing swab. 

Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA, said: ‘Current evidence suggests that the avian influenza viruses we’re seeing circulating in birds around the world do not spread easily to people.’

Bird flu outbreak: Everything you need to know 

What is it? 

Avian flu is an infectious type of influenza that spreads among birds.

In rare cases, it can be transmitted to humans through close contact with a dead or alive infected bird.

This includes touching infected birds, their droppings or bedding. People can also catch bird flu if they kill or prepare infected poultry for eating. 

Wild birds are carriers, especially through migration.

As they cluster together to breed, the virus spreads rapidly and is then carried to other parts of the globe.

New strains tend to appear first in Asia, from where more than 60 species of shore birds, waders and waterfowl head off to Alaska to breed and mix with migratory birds from the US. Others go west and infect European species.

What strain is currently spreading? 


So far the new virus has been detected in some 80million birds and poultry globally since September 2021 — double the previous record the year before.

Not only is the virus spreading at speed, it is also killing at an unprecedented level, leading some experts to say this is the deadliest variant so far.

Millions of chickens and turkeys in the UK have been culled or put into lockdown, affecting the availability of Christmas turkey and free-range eggs.

Can it infect people? 

Yes, but only 860 human cases have been reported to the World Health Organization since 2003.

The risk to people has been deemed ‘low’.

But people are strongly urged not to touch sick or dead birds because the virus is lethal, killing 56 per cent of people it does manage to infect.

‘However, we know already that the virus can spread to people following close contact with infected birds and this is why, through screening programmes like this one, we are monitoring people who have been exposed to learn more about this risk.

‘It remains critical that people avoid touching sick or dead birds, and that they follow the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs advice about reporting.’

Both the workers were spotted through routine testing of people came into contact with infected birds. Neither was named. 

The two workers testing positives follows the case of Alan Gosling, a retired engineer in Devon.

Mr Gosling caught the virus in early 2022 after his ducks, some of which lived inside his home, became infected. 

Bird flu is a well-known infectious disease of poultry and wild birds.

However, in a pattern that has alarmed scientists, other animals have also been catching the illness, such as seals, otters, wild dogs and foxes. 

Such cases have been reported in the UK and across the world.

The H5N1 virus is the most prevalent strain in circulation at the moment in the global outbreak which has killed millions of birds since it started in October 2021. 

And worrying lab experiments have shown some of the H5N1 strains spreading among wild animals also spread ‘efficiently’ in ferrets with ‘lethal outcomes’.

This worried experts as ferrets have a similar respiratory makeup to humans, meaning the results provide an idea of how the virus would interact in people. 

And British scientists have predicated the virus could kill one up to one in 20 people it infects, if it ever manages to take off in humans.

Those working on the models include Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist whose chilling projections of the Covid outbreak led the UK Government to impose the first lockdown. 

Under one scenario, officials modelled that the virus could kill up to 5 per cent of people who get infected. The scientists said this was in line with SARS outbreak in 2002.

This is, however, much lower than current estimates for the virus. Bird flu has an actual case-fatality rate of around 50 per cent in humans.

The scientists noted that the risk would vary among different age groups, just like with Covid. 

They also looked at how long it would take for health chiefs to spot that bird flu was spreading among people.

In a worst-case scenario, there would be 9,254 cases before the virus was spotted. 

For decades, scientists have warned that bird flu is the most likely contender for triggering the next pandemic.

Experts say this is because of the threat of recombination — with high levels of human flu raising the risk of a human becoming co-infected with avian flu as well.

This could see a deadly strain of bird flu merge with a transmissible seasonal flu, with the resulting hybrid being potentially more capable of infecting people. 

Such a scenario could theoretically emerge in cases like the two UKHSA detected.   

Data from the World Health Organization shows that over the last two decades, there have been 868 cases of human infection with H5N1 avian flu virus around the world. 

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