Person Catches Bird Flu in 'Very Rare' Case of Animal to Human Transmission

A "very rare" case of bird flu has been detected in a human in southwest England, a U.K. government agency confirmed on Thursday.

The U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that the person had been in close contact with infected birds and there was no evidence of onward transmission.

The UKHSA said: "The person acquired the infection from very close, regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time.

"All contacts of the individual, including those who visited the premises, have been traced and there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else. The individual is currently well and self-isolating. The risk to the wider public from avian flu continues to be very low."

The U.K.'s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, said in a press release that the risk of the spread of avian flu had been further diminished by rapid action.

She said: "While avian influenza is highly contagious in birds, this is a very rare event and is very specific to the circumstances on this premises.

"We took swift action to limit the spread of the disease at the site in question, all infected birds have been humanely culled, and cleansing and disinfection of the premises is underway. This is a reminder that stringent cleanliness when keeping animals is important."

The UKHSA said that the U.K. has recently seen a large number of outbreaks and incidents of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in birds across the country. This has prompted the U.K.'s Chief Veterinary Officer and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to issue alerts to bird owners.

This case was detected when APHA identified an outbreak of avian flu in a flock of birds as part of routine testing. The UKHSA said that the World Health Organization had been informed of the infection.

It added that to prevent the spread of avian flu, it is important that people do not touch or otherwise handle dead birds. Exposed people are offered anti-viral treatment to stop the virus from reproducing in their bodies, thus limiting the spread of avian flu.

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, U.K., said in a statement: "Transfer of avian flu to people is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected, usually dead, bird and the individual concerned.

"It is a risk for the handlers who are charged with the disposal of carcasses after an outbreak but the virus does not spread generally and poses little threat. It does not behave like the seasonal flu we are used to."

Jones said: "Despite the current heightened concern around viruses there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no need for public alarm."

Mike Tildesley, professor in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, U.K., said in a statement: "This is clearly going to be big news but the key thing is that human infections with H5N1 are really rare and they almost always occur as a result of direct, long term contact with poultry.

"There has never been any evidence of sustained human to human transmission of H5N1 so at present I wouldn't consider this to be a significant public health risk."

Testing for Avian Flu
A stock image of birds being tested for avian flu. UK authorities have discovered a rare case of avian flu in a human. Merrimon/Getty