Poultry workers to get flu jabs

By George Reynolds

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bird flu, Influenza

Poultry workers in England are to be offered free seasonal human
flu vaccinations by the Department of Health in a measure to combat
a potential outbreak of bird flu HN51.

Of the estimated 60,000 poultry workers eligible for the vaccine, many of those have direct contact with poultry and egg production areas and processing areas. Other workers that will benefit are involved in cleaning and disinfecting areas and equipment in contact with eggs and poultry.

The vaccination will not protect against bird flu, but the Department of Health hopes the vaccine will reduce the risk that workers may catch human and bird flu viruses at the same time, which could potentially create a new contagious strain.

The government's director of immunisation, Dr David Salisbury said only those who are in close, prolonged contact with diseased birds are at risk from catching H5N1. Even so, people rarely become infected.

"The programme has the support of the poultry industry. This is a prudent and precautionary step to take as part of our contingency planning in protecting the population against the risk of pandemic flu,"​ he said.

To date there have been no human cases of HN51 in the UK, although since the outbreak began in 2003, a of total 157 people have died from the disease worldwide.

Although outbreaks of bird flu virus H5N1 have subsided after a flurry of cases across Europe in 2006, instances continue to rise in Asia.

At a briefing to announce the plans, Fred Landeg, the chief veterinary officer, said that very cold weather could increase the risk of bird flu west towards Britain this year.

The programme will run from January 22 to 31 March 2007. Information packs are being sent to all keepers of poultry who are required to be registered and approved slaughterhouses in England. This will alert poultry workers to their entitlement to access free seasonal flu vaccination through their local NHS primary care trust (PCT).

PCTs throughout the country will be given the appropriate amount of seasonal flu vaccine and extra resources to cater for the expected additional uptake.

The NHS warns that people should not be vaccinated if they suffer from hens' eggs allergies, previously experienced severe reactions to flu vaccines, currently unwell, or already had a flu jab this winter.

The Department of Health said that arrangements to immunise poultry workers may continue in future years.

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