The risk of avian flu to humans remains low despite the first bird-to-human transmission recorded in Devon, according to scientists.
Retired engineer Alan Gosling, 79, was the first person in the UK to catch the new strain of bird flu, after close contact with sick ducks that lived in his property.
He lived with about 20 ducks inside his home in Buckfastleigh and had about 100 others living outside his property.
He noticed several birds falling ill shortly before Christmas and 19 out of the 20 sampled live birds tested positive for avian flu.
Mr Gosling himself, despite being asymptomatic, then tested positive for general flu and the H5NQ strain of avian flu.
Scientists have now said that this may have been an unusual case due to the proximity Mr Gosling had with the Muscovy ducks inside his home without any personal protective equipment.
While transmission of avian influenza viruses from birds to humans is generally rare, these viruses may adapt and gain the ability to also spread from person to person.
Timely identification of human infection is thus vital to prevent further spread.
During that time, the health authorities initiated comprehensive contact tracing among 11 human contacts. Among those contacts no additional primary cases or secondary transmissions were observed.
Professor Isabel Oliver, director of the National Infection Service, said: “The circumstances regarding exposure to birds were unusual, with a high degree of close contact with a large number of infected birds and a virus-contaminated enclosed domestic environment which resulted in infection.
“The spill-over infection to the human contact did not lead to any detected genetic changes in the virus that might be associated with increased zoonotic risk.
“This case demonstrates the increased risk posed by this kind of close contact but does not change the overall assessment that the risk to the general public from avian influenza virus remains very low.”
The study was published in the journal Eurosurveillance.