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Low concern over bird flu locally, after death in China

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The concern over the potential spread of bird flu remains low locally, the Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Carter, said following the first death globally.

On Wednesday the World Health Organisation confirmed a woman in China died from the H3H8 avian flu, which is rare in humans.

Last year concern rose after the UK found there was a spread.

Public Health Gibraltar held surveillance meetings to monitor the global situation, and alongside and the Department for the Environment asked the public to inform of dead bird sightings.

Samples were taken from the animals collected and all results returned were negative.

"Animals get flu like humans do, and we know globally outbreaks in flu in animals like birds is quite common what we find in less developed countries where people live in very close proximity to the animals is their increased likelihood of catching flu from an animal," Dr Carter said.

She added the death in China is not particularly concerning as the strain does not appear to spread between people.

Dr Carter said a large number of deaths in animals is more worrying from an epidemiological point of view.

When animal and human flu season coincide in the colder months there is concern "splicing of the viruses" will result in a new version of flu.

"Mixing between animal flu and human flu could potentially be more dangerous," she said.

"An isolated case in China is very, very sad, but not unexpected."

Dr Carter confirmed plans are in place in the event that a case of bird flu is found in Gibraltar.

"If we ever did confirm bird flu in the wild bird stocks here, we would make sure the Environmental Agency would pick up the dead carcasses of the birds, get assessed and take antiviral prophylaxis so they take tablets before touching the birds to protect them and protect us from getting that transmission into humans," she said.

She added a public awareness campaign would be set in motion.

"It was a very useful opportunity for us last December to plan and indeed you hear of cases in China of that poor lady that died and it reminds us of why we need to have those plans," Dr Carter said.

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