The first person in the UK to catch a new strain of bird flu has been named as 79-year-old Alan Gosling, a retired engineer who lived with about 20 ducks inside his home in Devon.
Gosling, who had about another 100 ducks living outside on his property in Buckfastleigh, noticed several birds falling ill shortly before Christmas, Devon Live reports.
Subsequent tests by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) were returned positive for the H5N1 strain of avian flu. They were subsequently killed shortly after Christmas.
Gosling then tested positive for general flu virus and the H5N1 strain of avian flu – a first for the strain in the UK. The risk to the wider public continues to be very low, health officials have said, but people have been urged to not touch sick or dead birds.
Gosling reportedly welcomed about 20 of the birds into his home as pets after he began feeding the flock.
His daughter-in-law, Ellesha Gosling, from Cranbrook, told Devon Live how Gosling begged for their lives to be spared and described the Muscovy ducks as his best friends.
She said: “The past couple of weeks have been hell for this family. He saw all of his ducks killed, and they were like his closest friends.”
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed on Thursday that a person in the south-west of England had tested positive for bird flu.
In a statement, the health protection body said: “Bird-to-human transmission of avian flu is very rare and has only occurred a small number of times in the UK previously.
“The person acquired 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 individual is currently well and self-isolating.”
The UK has recently reported a large number of bird flu outbreaks among animals, with the UK’s chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss, issuing warnings to bird owners over hygiene.
There are 64 cases of avian influenza H5N1 in England, according to Defra, with new cases being confirmed on a daily basis. There are also a number of cases in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The whole of the UK is covered by avian influenza prevention zones, which require bird keepers to take measures to try to stop the disease’s spread, such as housing or netting all poultry and captive birds to keep them separate from wild birds, and disinfecting clothing and equipment.
Some strains of bird flu can pass from birds to people, but this is extremely rare, according to the UKHSA.
It usually requires close contact with an infected bird, so the risk to humans is generally considered very low.
Human-to-human transmission of bird flu is also very rare, the organisation said.
This was the first human case of the strain in the UK, the organisation said, although there have been cases elsewhere globally.