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Email from Dr Watkins, virologist Feb 5 2007

Dear Mary
You raise all the right questions on your web site as usual!
If no evidence has been gleaned of the virus in wild birds in Western Europe I would put that as the second possibility - i.e. after introduction by someone breaking the rules somewhere and introducing it from Hungary (as it seems though more genetic information would be useful) directly into the infected shed. 

On risk analysis, taking into account outbreaks in intensive poultry systems introducing the virus to a country like Nigeria or Pakistan from imports or contamination of imports or workers rather than wild birds, it is disturbing that our officials are so biased and self deluded.

Any rule breaking is likely to be concealed and any illegal activity hidden. However that should not affect a disinterested risk assessment. 

Assuming it is from wild birds does of course have important implications for the poultry industry both intensive and free range. It may be introduced into wild birds from this outbreak - but if it is not present in wild birds as a cause of this outbreak then huge and guess-work restriction zones are not necessary and wasting everyone's money.
Biosecurity is another issue- Sheds cannot possibly be totally biosecure and I wonder that animal health experts support these huge unnaturally intensive flocks that are actually fundamentally a risk to health. Outbreaks such as this produce huge concentrations of the pathogen.

The lorries covered with tarpaulin cannot be said to be sealed, merely covered.  John Oxford is talking about sealed steel containers but they are plainly not correctly described as such. 

Where were the turkeys from the infected shed taken for rendering ? If to Norfolk then that is perhaps the reason for the expansion of their zone? Unfortunately one cannot rely on any official being truthful - trust is something they have to earn 

This brings me to diagnosis. Delay in picking up the infection in the first place is shrugged off by the veterinary profession in a way it should not be.
  • First the Matthews vet should be making a diagnosis based on taking samples; that might have gained 2 days.
  • Each sample taken for diagnosis should have a protocol applied to it and a number of infections screened for.
  • Clinical assumptions must always be tested in the laboratory particularly in intensive farming conditions where infection takes hold like wild fire.
  • Even if there was E coli infection as the vet suspected, it should not preclude testing for avian influenza as part of a standard protocol as both infections could be present.
  • I suspect the veterinary testing is based on the vet's request for a specific pathogen and not a screening protocol.
  • This is also likely as a cost cutting device as all veterinary tests must be paid for.  Secondly the rapid diagnostic PCR testing could be applied even if from a VLA lab with same day results faxed out. Once there is an outbreak then on site rapid PCR testing should be applied.
    What of vaccination?  It would be good if DEFRA could vouchsafe under what circumstances we would use it - perhaps that has to wait for the well known virologist (not) Professor King to decide!
    with best wishes from Ruth
    I am back on the net and on Broad band too.
    Ruth Watkins