Vigilance needed ‘for up to a decade’

David Nabarro, the United Nations’s bird flu coordinator, said on Sunday that British authorities had reacted to the H5N1 outbreak in a commercial turkey farm in Norfolk last week “exactly as the European Union Commission prescribed”.

He told the Financial Times that the chances of human infection as a result of the Suffolk outbreak were “infinitesimally small”, though he warned that the world needs to remain vigilant for up to a decade to ensure the virus’s eradication.

Mr Nabarro was speaking in Indonesia, where he urged the country to declare a national emergency to fight the pathogenic H5N1 virus which is endemic in poultry across much of the nation and has killed more people than in any other country.

Dr Nabarro warned no country could afford to be complacent. “This is going to be a problem for a number of years to come and we have to remain focused on it, implement wide actions, keep the public engaged, involve different parts of government, track what we’re doing, keep very careful checks on what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve got to keep doing it for five to 10 years.”

Wild migratory birds capable of transmitting highly pathogenic viruses without showing symptoms are a particular cause for concern, Dr Nabarro warned.

He said personnel from Britain’s department for environment, farming and rural affairs investigating the Suffolk outbreak should be checking “the degree to which the particular turkey farm on which this happened was sealed off from contact with birds outside, the water supply [and] whether there was full infection control practised by people who are coming into and out of the farm”.

He added: “What we need to ensure is that the virus doesn’t become endemic or continuously circulating in the poultry population. UK people have to understand that the likelihood of a human getting infected and sick as a result of H5N1 as a result of this one outbreak is infinitesimally small.

“The likelihood of poultry or poultry products causing disease in humans is small, provided that people adopt the practice they should adopt with any meat, which is to cook it thoroughly at the appropriate temperature.”

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