Government Issues Bird Flu Warning

The Government has issued a warning about Bird Flu after a number of dead seabirds appeared on Gibraltar’s coastline. Although the avian flu has not definitely been identified as the cause of death, The Director of Public Health has said that “it remains very possible that this was the cause”.

A statement continued: “The outbreak of avian influenza (‘bird flu’) in northern Europe this spring and summer has made headlines. It has led to the closure of poultry farms in the UK and elsewhere and has resulted in the death of thousands of seabirds in their nesting colonies.

“Bird flu is now in the Iberian Peninsula, largely as a result of the movement of migratory birds that fly south for the winter. Bird flu has affected seabirds in particular, including species that frequent our shores at this time of year, such as gannets and razorbills.

“Over the past week or so, a number of dead seabirds have appeared on our coastline, and while bird flu has not yet definitely been identified, it remains very possible that this was the cause.”

The Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter has commented, ‘Avian influenza is a common illness in birds. I assess the health risk, at this time, to the public to be very low. The World Health Organisation have confirmed that the current avian influenza outbreak is being caused by a H9N2 influenza strain. We currently are experiencing an early increase in human seasonal flu cases with a H1N1 influenza strain. The risk is that someone who is infected with a human strain of seasonal flu could become infected at the same time with the avian flu strain. This mixing of viruses can cause a new flu strain to form that results in a more severe illness. This is why I am working closely with the Environment Agency and we are adopting a pre-cautionary approach. We are strongly advising the public not to touch dead birds but to call the Environment Protection and Research Unit.’

“The advice from the Department of the Environment is that dead or sick seabirds (or any birds) should not be touched but should be reported to the Department’s Environmental Protection and Research Unit (EPRU) on telephone 58009620. The birds will then be collected for examination.

“At the same time, it will become necessary to take precautions to humanely decrease the populations of feral birds, such as pigeons and chickens, that come into close contact with and are fed by the public.”

Earlier today the Minister with responsibility for Public Health, Prof John Cortes, convened a multi-departmental meeting to discuss the current global situation regarding Avian Flu and Gibraltar’s preparedness for such an outbreak.

At present there are no confirmed cases of Avian Flu in Gibraltar although, given the recent increase in dead bird sightings across Gibraltar, samples have been taken and sent to the UK for testing with results expected to return later next week.

Additionally, the general public are strongly advised NOT to feed or touch any pigeons or chickens as this will help reduce the chances of any transmission to humans.

The Department for the Environment would like to remind the public that dead birds should be reported to the Environmental Protection and Research Unit (EPRU) on telephone 58009620.

All birds tested for the avian flu in Gibraltar have returned negative results, with no bird flu in humans detected locally either, the Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, confirmed.

But while the tests were negative, the exercise focused attention on Gibraltar’s preparedness to respond to a bird flu outbreak, offering a chance to rehearse strategies and tighten them where necessary.

After the spread of bird flu in the UK and Spain, Gibraltar decided to test dead birds that were appearing on the shoreline and send the samples to the UK.

Last month multi-departmental meetings were held by the Gibraltar Government to analyse Gibraltar’s preparedness for an outbreak, and the public were advised not to touch any birds.

"What we're concerned about is if you have human seasonal flu circulating and flu in birds, and you then get a mixing of the viruses, that can then create a new strain," Dr Carter said.

Dr Carter added that the UK has found avian flu in birds, which has also spread to some parts of Europe. Spain has had some cases of avian flu in birds and in humans.

"We haven't got avian flu in birds that have been dying, but what that did was give us the opportunity to re-look at all our plans," she said.

"If we do get avian flu here, we're very clear about who's doing what and the human health consequences and what we need to do."

"It was a good dry run for us to make sure that if we do ever have avian flu, we know what we're doing here."

The dead birds may be a result of the oil spill that occured in Gibraltar: