Health

Britain’s bird flu hotspots REVEALED: Interactive map shows all cases logged in wild animals in 2023

Britain’s bird flu hotspots have today been laid bare — after two poultry workers tested positive for the killer virus.

MailOnline’s colour-coded interactive map allows you to check if your local area ranks among the worst-affected regions.  

It breaks down all 300-plus avian influenza cases spotted in the wild since 2023 began. 

County Durham and Northumberland top the table, according to our analysis of Government data.

Only three Brits have ever caught bird flu, which has yet to successfully spread in humans. This includes the two announced yesterday.

County Durham, Northumberland and Argyll and Bute are among the worst-hit areas, MailOnline analysis of Government data has revealed

County Durham, Northumberland and Argyll and Bute are among the worst-hit areas, MailOnline analysis of Government data has revealed

Read more: All you need to know about bird flu as two British poultry workers test positive for killer virus

Health officials today revealed they are monitoring the threat ‘very carefully’ amid ever-growing fears another human pandemic is lurking around the corner. 

More than 100 authorities have detected at least one case of avian influenza in wild animals this year already. H5N1 is the most prevalent strain.

This includes 18 in County Durham and 15 in Northumberland, the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) database shows. 

However, the true number will be much higher as only a fraction of birds are tested for the virus and it can take months for an infection to be confirmed.

Pink-footed and greylag geese, black-headed gulls and common buzzards are among the species to have been sickened. 

APHA conducts year-round testing of dead wild birds, which are reported to it by the public. 

The surveillance aims to provide information on where and which strains of the virus are circulating.

The number of positive cases are calculated using wild bird reserve wardens and collections of found-dead wild birds reported to APHA by members of the public. 

It comes as Britain was put on red alert for bird flu following the discovery that two poultry workers had caught the virus.

No signs of human-to-human transmission have yet been detected in the UK. 

It has not been confirmed which strain both poultry workers tested positive for.

But H5N1 — which has triggered the biggest ever bird flu outbreak — is known to still be spreading.

UK scientists tasked with developing 'scenarios of early human transmission' of bird flu have warned that 5 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)

UK scientists tasked with developing ‘scenarios of early human transmission’ of bird flu have warned that 5 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)

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

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

Neither of the two workers — who worked on the same farm in an undisclosed location — suffered any symptoms of the illness. 

Both have since tested negative after being diagnosed earlier this month. 

The two individuals ‘were tested repeatedly over a period of time’, Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, this morning. 

‘They manifested no symptoms which is really good and they didn’t transmit to anyone else,’ she added. 

‘We don’t think this increases the risk to the population across the UK at present.’ 

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

Read more: Britain on red alert for bird flu: Health chiefs are tracking outbreak ‘very carefully’ after two poultry workers test positive for killer virus

 

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

Both workers have since ‘become negative on PCR swabs’ and it remains ‘uncertain whether they were a true infection’, she added.

Professor Hopkins told the programme: ‘These are people who are working in very close contact and the proximity with infected birds on infected farms.

‘So there will be a lot of dust and a lot of potential virus fragments in the air, but also on the ground, on their clothing as they’re working in this environment.

‘They wear a lot of PPE to prevent them from getting infected.

‘But there is always still a risk that this virus and the contaminants from the environment can get under the nose and therefore we can detect bird flu when we do swabs from that.’

She added: ‘We are testing the contacts of individuals, we are offering tests at least to the contacts of individuals.

‘We will continue to do that as part of our surveillance.’

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.

But there has only ever previously been one case of a British person becoming infected with H5N1 since the ongoing outbreak took off in October 2021.

Alan Gosling, a retired engineer in Devon who kept ducks at home, caught the virus in early 2022 after his ducks became infected.

He later tested negative while he was in quarantine for nearly three weeks. 

All 160 of Mr Gosling’s ducks — including 20 that lived inside his home — were culled after he tested positive. 

H5N1 does not transmit easily between humans.

But mutations to the virus that makes mammal-to-mammal transmission easier could change that, some experts fear.

Globally, fewer than 900 human cases of H5N1, which kills close to 50 per cent of those it strikes, have ever been recorded.

The virus is usually picked up through close contact with an infected bird, whether dead or alive.

A National Trust ranger clears dead birds from Staple Island, Northumberland, in July

A National Trust ranger clears dead birds from Staple Island, Northumberland, in July 

Bird flu usually occurs in people who spend a lot of time with infected creatures, such as bird handlers. Pictured: A swan on the River Thames in Windsor, Berkshire

Bird flu usually occurs in people who spend a lot of time with infected creatures, such as bird handlers. Pictured: A swan on the River Thames in Windsor, Berkshire

Like other forms of flu, humans can get infected if the virus gets into their eyes, nose, mouth or is inhaled.

But with bird flu, this usually occurs in people who spend a lot of time with infected creatures, such as bird handlers.

A spate of human bird flu cases have emerged in the early parts of 2023.

Earlier this year, a Cambodian man and his daughter were diagnosed with H5N1.

Their cases sparked international concern, with many experts fearing the infection was proof the virus had mutated to infect people better after tearing through the world’s bird population.

Further testing found the Cambodian family did not have the H5N1 strain rapidly spreading among the world’s wild birds — but instead a variant known to spread locally in the Prey Veng province where they lived.

APHA is currently reviewing the bird flu risk to humans in the UK every week. 

The government agency has currently set the threat level to level three, given there is ‘evidence’ of changes in the virus genome that could trigger ‘mammalian infection’, it said.

Any ‘sustained’ mammal-to-mammal transmission of the pathogen would raise the threat level to four, while human-to-human would push it to five.

British farms have already faced tough, lockdown-esque biosecurity rules in efforts to combat the deadly disease. 

A housing order keeping birds indoors — even those reared as free range — to avoid contact with wild birds was only lifted last month. 

Dr Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, told MailOnline today: ‘Whilst the lifting of the mandatory housing measures will be welcome news to bird keepers, scrupulous biosecurity remains the most critical form of defence to help keep your birds safe.

She added: ‘It is thanks to the hard work of all bird keepers and vets who have played their part in keeping flocks safe this winter that we are in a position to take this action. 

‘However, the unprecedented nature of this outbreak has proven it’s more important than ever for bird keepers to remain vigilant for signs of disease and maintain stringent standards of biosecurity.’

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

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.

Which strains are currently spreading?

H5N1 and H3N8.

So far the virus H5N1 has been detected in some 80 million 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.

But earlier this year, on March 27, the World Health Organization (WHO) was also informed that a Chinese woman had become the first person to ever die from the H3N8 strain.

The 56-year-old woman from the southern province of Guangdong was the third person known to have been infected with the H3N8 subtype of avian influenza, according to the WHO. 

Although rare in people, H3N8 is common in birds, but it causes little to no sign of disease. 

It has also infected other mammals. 

Can bird flu infect people?

Yes, but only 873 human cases of bird flu 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.