Article adapted from BBC News Online (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4893366.stm)
Published: 09 April 2006
The chances of bird flu virus mutating into a form that spreads between humans are "very low", the UK government's chief scientific adviser has said.
Speaking on ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme Sir David King said bird flu was not among the human population. The H5N1 virus cannot pass easily from one person to another and therefore currently does not pose a large-scale threat to humans. Sir David King said any suggestion a global flu pandemic in humans was inevitable was "totally misleading".
Sir David said bird flu was "absolutely not" present among poultry [in the UK], and said he was "fairly optimistic" it was absent in wild birds. "The one swan doesn't mean it has arrived here," he said.
No more wild birds have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain since a case was found in a swan in Fife last week. Experts are still testing birds found near Cellardyke, and a UK helpline has had thousands of reports of dead birds. The infected swan found in Fife had a "very similar" strain to one which infected more than 100 birds in Germany, tests showed.
Speaking for the first time about the case, Scotland's first minister Jack McConnell has defended the response [to finding an H5N1-positive dead Mute Swan in Scotland], saying it had been "fast, effective and well coordinated".
Two newspapers have printed details of government plans to cope in the event of a human pandemic. They include a leaked letter from Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson to Schools Minister Jacqui Smith - published in the Sunday Times - in which he suggested an estimated death toll among school children of 100,000 could be halved with school closures.
But a health spokesman said: "This is still a disease of birds, not humans." He said the government was preparing for it as a "very low possibility". He added: "We have got a virus in the bird population that has gone on since 1996, and in Asia particularly there has been a lot of contact between human beings and the birds that have got that virus. Despite that, a human virus had not developed, he said.