UK health chiefs have warned they have received 'increased reports' of seals infected with influenza A viruses. The virus, which has strains ranging from mild to deadly, is circulating among birds but can spread to animals and humans – although human transmission is rare.  The two variants spotted in the UK are H3N8, which is thought to kill up to half of the people it infects, and H5N8, which appears to cause only mild illness in humans.

Health chiefs issue warning over SEALS amid fears they could carry mutated bird flu

Health chiefs issue warning over SEALS amid fears they could carry mutated bird flu

  • UK health chiefs have warned of a ‘rise in reports’ of seals infected with bird flu
  • The H3N8 strain, thought to kill half of those infected, is among the cases detected
  • The risk to the public is low, but Brits have been warned to stay away from animals

Britons have been told to stay away from seals for fear they could be infected with the deadly bird flu.

Health authorities have received “increased reports” of mammals carrying bird flu.

Although human transmission is rare, scientists fear bird flu could be the source of the next global pandemic.

As the virus spreads, it could theoretically mutate to hit humans more easily – the same way scientists think Covid was born.

Due to a lack of testing among the seals, officials have no idea how big the problem is.

The risk to the public is low, according to the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA). But he warned Britons to stay away from animals.

Conservationists and scientists, who are in close contact with the seals for work, must wear masks and thick gloves and keep a barrier between them.

And those who work with the animals have been told to take samples from sick and dead seals to diagnostic labs for testing, to monitor whether the virus is evolving.

UK health chiefs have warned they have received ‘increased reports’ of seals infected with influenza A viruses. The virus, which has strains ranging from mild to deadly, is circulating among birds but can spread to animals and humans – although human transmission is rare. The two variants spotted in the UK are H3N8, which is thought to kill up to half of the people it infects, and H5N8, which appears to cause only mild illness in humans.

A report from a multi-agency group, led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Animal and Plant Health Agency, warns of an increase in cases of avian influenza A in seals.

Birds known to be near water, such as seagulls, are most likely to spread the virus to other birds and animals, the report said.

A handful of cases have been reported in recent years.

A seal pup in Cornwall was infected with the H3N8 strain – thought to be one of the deadliest types of bird flu, killing up to half of humans who catch it – in 2017.

Meanwhile, seals at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Norfolk were found to have the milder H5N8 version in 2020.

However, neither instance has seen any infected humans.

The UKHSA claimed there was no evidence of transmission between seals and humans in the UK.

But there is evidence of human transmission outside the UK.

Five people working with seals in the United States caught animal flu in the 1970s and suffered from conjunctivitis. But they fully recovered and did not spread it further.

British health chiefs warn that seals that catch bird flu could allow the virus to mutate to become more transmissible or more severe.

They noted that the general population is “unlikely to be exposed to an infected seal” as they are not likely to be around the animals for extended periods.

However, officials said human disturbance of seals was a ‘significant and growing problem’ in the UK and could see Britons bitten.

They biting warnings and other contact with infected seals or their contaminated tissues and bodily fluids posed the “greatest risk of exposure for humans.”

The UK-based Seal Conservation Society blames tour boats, pedal boats and ‘swimming with’ activities for the increased interactions.

But people helping stranded seals are also seen as a concern. Last month, four seals stranded in the US state of Maine tested positive for bird flu.

And experts warn that seal strandings will only become more common.

A virus that kills up to 50% of humans… but transmission is rare: everything you need to know about bird flu

What is bird flu?

Bird flu, or bird flu, is an infectious type of flu that spreads among species of birds but can, on rare occasions, spread to humans.

Like the human flu, there are many strains of bird flu:

The current bird outbreak in the UK is H5N1, the strain the infected Briton carries.

Where was he spotted in the UK?

There are currently 96 cases of H5N1 bird flu in England. There are also two cases in Wales and two cases in Scotland.

How deadly is the virus?

Bird flu mortality rates in humans have been estimated at 50%.

But because transmission to humans is so rare, around 500 bird flu deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization since 1997.

Is it transmissible from birds to humans?

Cases of bird-to-human transmission are rare and usually do not spread from human to human.

Bird flu is transmitted through close contact with an infected bird or a bird’s body.

This may include:

  • touching infected birds
  • touching feces or bedding
  • kill or prepare poultry for cooking

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said: ‘The transfer of bird flu to humans is rare as it requires direct contact between an infected bird, usually dead, and the individual concerned.

“It is a risk for handlers who are tasked with disposing of carcasses after an outbreak, but the virus does not spread generally and poses little threat.

“It does not behave like the seasonal flu that we are used to.

“Despite the current heightened concern about viruses, there is no risk to chicken meat or eggs and no need for public alarm.”

What are the symptoms?

Bird flu symptoms usually take three to five days to appear, the most common being:

  • a very high temperature
  • or feel hot or shiver
  • sore muscles
  • headache
  • a cough or shortness of breath

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