Earlier this year, the H7N2 avian influenza (AI) virus reared its head in the north-western region of the United Kingdom (UK), briefly causing panic in North Wales and surrounding English counties. Although previously responsible for many outbreaks and huge culls of poultry in the eastern United States, the virus had shown little evidence of infecting humans, let alone being passed between them. This outbreak, the first for the UK, was unique. Only a few birds were infected and culled but the virus rapidly affected people exposed to infected birds and then spread to secondary human contacts.
According to The Daily Post, one human contact now taking legal action over exposure to the virus is a police officer sent to stand guard outside the infected farm in North Wales in late May 2007.
The officer who stood guard outside a farm at this centre of the AI outbreak fell ill is said to be suing the North Wales Police. The officer is claiming compensation for inadequate training and failure to provide adequate protective clothing. Two members of the officer’s family also fell ill and are thought to be included in the landmark legal action lodged against the police force.
Authorities had immediately set up a 1km cordon around the infected farm to restrict movement, with officers controlling access and looking after the owners. The officers wore their usual police uniform, while public health staff attended the farm in full protective gear.
Public health chiefs said a total of 17 people showed flu-like symptoms after the initial outbreak followed by another at a farm near Pwllheli a few days later. Chris Lines of the National Public Health Service for Wales said that it was still unknown exactly how many people fell ill, and whether those illnesses were down to the AI outbreak.
Mr Lines said, “We are awaiting the results of serology tests. It is a test we can do some months after someone has fallen ill and which shows any antibodies you may have in your blood. If you did indeed suffer the illness, then you will have developed the antibodies. The tests will take some months to do.” He would not confirm whether police officers were among those who had been tested.
This must rank amongst the most bizarre of the twists and tales emanating from ongoing problems with AI. Nevertheless, it reinforces lessons on the need for protection for everyone in contact with the virus, and the vulnerability of human health in the presence of AI virus particles, irrespective of sub-type.