Backyard duck keeper first in the UK to contract bird flu

11-01-2022 | | |
Photo: Elstef
Photo: Elstef

Retired railway worker and duck expert, Alan Gosling, has been named as one of the first people in the UK to have contracted bird flu.

The 79-year-old from Buckfastleigh, Devon, has the H5N1 strain, prompting vets to kill 160 Muscovy ducks on his holding, including some that lived in his home in southwest England. Officials said there was no evidence of spread to other humans following tracing of close contacts, and while Gosling has not needed hospital treatment, he is self-isolating.

The current H5N1 outbreak is the largest bird flu crisis recorded in Britain, with up to 2 million birds thought to have been culled so far this autumn and winter.

Human cases are very rare

Professor Mike Tildesley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, said the case came on the back of 60-65 farm outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza across the UK.

“Human cases are very, very rare and generally what happens is that it tends to be farmworkers or …there have been quite a lot of human cases in Southeast Asia and it tends to be market workers who live in very close proximity to poultry. That’s what seems to have happened in this case – it appears to have been a poultry worker in close proximity to poultry. Generally, it is very unlikely to have human-to-human transmission and evidence of any kind of sustained human-to-human transmission in history is not there. There is no public health risk at the moment,” he said.

Speaking on BBC Radio’s Today programme, Tildesely said that if the case had been caught early, antivirals could help the patient. Symptoms, he said, are quite similar to Coronavirus where cough and fever were common.

No evidence of onward infection

The UK Health Security Agency stressed bird-to-human transmission was very rare and had previously occurred only a small number of times in the UK.

In a statement, it said: “The person acquitted 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 risk to the wider public from avian flu continues to be very low. However, people should not touch sick or dead birds.”

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist