Swans are spinning in circles, bleeding from their nostrils, and collapsing dead amid an outbreak of avian flu in Europe

Will Martin
  • Officials in the UK are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of avian influenza in the country after reports of some swans dying gruesome, bloody deaths.

  • Swans have been reported to spin in circles and bleed from their nostrils before dying in some regions of the UK.

  • The deaths come amid an outbreak of a new strain of avian flu, H5N8, which has already led to the culling of thousands of birds across Europe.

  • The disease is not believed to pose a threat to humans, and there is currently no suggestion it could impact poultry supply chains.

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Officials in the UK are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of avian influenza in the country after reports of a number of swans dying gruesome, bloody deaths.

According to a report from the Guardian newspaper, a number of swans in Cumbria, in north west England, were seen spinning in circles and bleeding from their nostrils before dying. The incidences of this happening were reported in Ulverston canal, the Guardian said.

"Many of them started to spin on their axis in one direction. It was terrible to see. Some of them were discharging from their nostrils and some of it was bloody," said Caroline Sim, who volunteers with Flying Free, a group that works to preserve Ulverston's swan population, according to the Guardian.

Although the cases of swan deaths in Cumbria have not been directly linked to avian flu at this point, a number of dead swans in Dawlish, Devon — around 250 miles south of Ulverston — were confirmed to have contracted H5N8, the latest strain of avian flu.

Cases of the virus have been seen across Europe, with France, Germany, Belgium, Norway and others reporting instances of H5N8.

Swans
Swans in Belgium Getty Images/KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

"Wild geese near Stroud in Gloucestershire and swans near Dawlish in Devon have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N8," the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a statement on November 11.

On November 22, DEFRA issued guidance for bird owners, and created a new Avian Influenza Prevention Zone.

Christine Middlemiss, the UK's chief veterinary officer, told Sky News this weekend that the rise in avian flu infections must be taken seriously.

"My concern level is really high," she said. "We potentially have a lot of risk out there," because of the "sheer volume of infections," she added.

Officials, however, have made clear that the risk to humans from this new strain is low.

"To date, there have been no human cases of infection with influenza A(H5N8) confirmed by the WHO and the risk to public health is very low," Dr Gavin Dabrera, a consultant in acute respiratory infections for Public Health England said.

Food standards authorities added that the chance of contracting the disease by eating infected poultry is low.

"Properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, remain safe to eat," the UK's Food Standards Agency said.

Regardless of the low threat to humans, authorities across Europe have begun culling thousands of birds in an attempt to stop the spread. According to Reuters, 16,000 turkeys in Germany were culled this week, while 48,000 chickens were killed in the Netherlands, and 13,000 killed at a farm in northwest England.

On Sunday, it was reported that over 10,000 turkeys at a farm in Yorkshire would be culled after the virus was discovered in some birds.

It is currently unclear whether the culling of birds has the potential to threaten poultry supply chains ahead of Christmas.

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