Two dolphins die off UK coast after catching bird flu

The mammals infected with avian influenza were found last month in two separate locations, on beaches in Devon and Pembrokeshire (Picture: Getty Images)

Two dolphins died from bird flu in British waters for the first time, the government announced.

The mammals were found last month in two separate locations, on beaches in Devon and Pembrokeshire.

At least one of them was confirmed to have had the strain H5N1, a highly infectious variant of avian influenza which has caused millions of bird deaths across the globe over the last 18 months.

The deaths have been either directly from the virus or due to culling, and the disease has also affected some mammals.

Other dolphins have previously been killed worldwide by bird flu, but this is the first time it has happened in the UK.

Exactly 23 mammals have been affected in the UK so far, including a harbour porpoise, seals, otters and foxes.

Elsewhere across the world mink and sea lions have been affected.

Millions of birds have died worldwide due to the disease (Picture: PA)

A harbour porpoise was also killed by bird flu (Picture: Reuters)

It is thought the virus is spread through animals scavenging dead infected birds, rather than directly to each other.

The government said there is no evidence of an increased risk to mammals following the deaths of the dolphins.

A spokesperson for the Animal and Plant Health Agency said: ‘Samples taken as part of routine wildlife surveillance have detected the presence of influenza of avian origin in two dolphins and one porpoise.

‘The animals were found dead, and it is very likely they had predated on infected wild birds.

At least one of them was confirmed to have had the strain H5N1, which is highly infectious (Picture: Getty Images)

‘The presence of influenza of avian origin in mammals is not new, although it is uncommon, and the risk of the H5N1 strain to non-avian UK wildlife remains low.’

They said the findings have been passed on to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

The risk of humans catching bird flu is considered very low, and the only cases have been in people who came into close contact with infected birds.

It is not thought humans can pass it to one another.

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But the World Health Organisation’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned ‘we cannot assume that will remain the case and we must prepare for any change in the status quo’.

Anyone who comes into contact with wildlife is advised to wash their hands thoroughly afterwards, and avoid touching a sick or dead wild bird.

It was revealed at the end of last year 600,000 turkeys had died or had been culled due to bird flu.

The ongoing epidemic has caused so many supply issues with eggs and meat that the US is now considering vaccinating chickens against bird flu.

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