Britain Confirms First H5N1 Bird Flu Virus Outbreak on Poultry Farm

Authorities confirmed Saturday the H5N1 bird flu virus has been detected for the first time on a British poultry farm after 2,500 turkeys died.

As a precaution all 159,000 turkeys will be slaughtered on the farm in Holton in Suffolk, about 130 miles northeast of London, said Britain's Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg. He said he expects the outbreak to be contained.

Television news footage showed piles of slaughtered birds being funneled into an open tractor trailer before being taken away for incineration.

Landeg said the virus was detected in only one of 22 turkey sheds on the farm, which is owned by Bernard Matthews PLC, a British turkey producer.

Workers have been offered antiviral drugs and are wearing protective clothing, said Health Protection Agency virologist Maria Zambon. She added that the virus does not transmit easily to humans and has not been found to be transmitted through food.

Experts stressed the situation did not pose a public health threat.

The is the first instance of H5N1 in Britain since a wild swan in Scotland was found to have the virus in March. Turkeys and chickens are more susceptible to H5N1 than wild birds, who can carry the disease over long distances without showing symptoms.

"This virus is going to be in bird populations for years to come and the way in which we'll deal with it is by implementing the well-rehearsed plan to stamp it out at source," Dr. David Nabarro, the U.N. influenza coordinator, told British Broadcasting Corp. television.

Bird flu has killed or prompted the culling of millions of birds worldwide since late 2003 when it first began ravaging Asian poultry stocks. It has killed at least 164 people worldwide, but remains difficult for humans to catch. Experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a global pandemic. So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds.