Animal health officials in the UK yesterday announced that samples from three mute swans found dead at a swan sanctuary in Dorset County on England’s southwest coast tested positive for H5N1 avian influenza.
The birds were found and tested as part of a routine surveillance program, according to a statement today from the UK Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). The site where the birds were found, Abbotsbury Swannery, is home to about 600 swans, according to a report yesterday from BBC News. Established by Benedictine monks in the 1040s, the swannery is a tourist attraction that boasts the world’s only managed colony of mute swans, according to the Abbotsbury Tourism Web site. A wild bird control and monitoring area that has been established around the swannery includes Chesil Beach, an 18-mile stretch of English Channel coastline, and a nearby island called Portland Bill, according to the DEFRA statement. Bird keepers in the area are required to house their birds or isolate them from contact with wild birds. Officials have also restricted bird movements and banned bird gatherings in the area.
The H5N1 virus has not been found in domestic birds, and a wild bird surveillance program is underway. “There will be no culling of wild birds because such action may disperse birds further and would not aid control,” DEFRA said. “While this is obviously unwelcome news, we have always said that Britain is at a constant low level of risk of introduction of avian influenza,” said Fred Landeg, DEFRA’s acting chief veterinary officer. John Houston, a representative of Abbotsbury Swannery, said the establishment is working with the UK Health Protection agency to ensure that the staff and public are protected, the BBC reported.
In March 2006, a dead bird that was first reported to be a mute swan washed up on a beach in Scotland and was found to be infected with H5N1, signaling the UK's first H5N1 finding, according to previous reports. The bird was later identified as a wild whooper swan, according to a report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The virus has also turned up in mute swans in other European countries, including France and Hungary. Last year England had two H5N1 outbreaks in Suffolk turkey farms, one at the Bernard Matthews farm in February and another at two Redgrave Farms sites in November. (CIDRAP)