A ‘highly pathogenic’ new strain of bird flu has been detected in a human being for the first time.

The strain, named H5N8, has left birds dead across Cornwall and Devon among other counties in the UK, but never before had it been found in humans.

But that has now changed, with officials in Russia saying seven workers at a poultry plant in the south of the country had been infected following an outbreak there in December.

“All seven people… are now feeling well,” said the head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog, Anna Popova.

“The discovery of these mutations when the virus has not still acquired an ability to transmit from human to human gives us all, the entire world, time to prepare for possible mutations and react in an adequate and timely fashion.”

There has been no evidence of the strain being transmitted between humans, and the case has been reported to the World Health Organisation.

The NHS website says that, among the many different strains of bird flu, there are only three – H5N1, H7N9 and H5N6 – which have infected people before, leading to ‘a number of deaths’.

Residents in Falmouth have been urged to stay away from sick or dead birds after two swans were found to have been infected with avian flu last month.

It was a similar story in Dawlish, Devon, where six of the town’s famous black swans were found dead late last year, again due to avian flu.

And in Plymouth, a number of swans died or were put to sleep due to suspected bird flu.

Black swans in Dawlish

Black swans in Dawlish
(Image: Daniel Clark)

The strain is being blamed for bizarre symptoms among infected birds which include bleeding from the nostrils and swimming around in circles.

Defra – the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs – introduced new measures in December to try and control the spread.

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Protection and surveillance zones have been set up around areas where the strain has been discovered, including Exmouth in Devon.

The last positive case of H5N8 was in laying chickens at a premises near Redcar in North Yorkshire on February 6 this year. The birds were quickly culled and limits on the movement of birds was introduced.

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