A CUMBRIAN vet is urging the public not to touch dying or dead birds after the strain of a 'highly pathogenic' avian flu has led to three outbreaks already in the county.

His plea comes after it has been reported that sick or dying birds are littering the Solway coastline.

David McCrea, of Capontree Veterinary Practice at Brampton, says bird to human transmission of avian flu is very rare and has previously only occurred a small number of times in the UK.

But, he added, there had been a case in the country recently.

"The person acquired the infection from very close regular contact with a large number of infected birds, which they had kept in and around their home over a prolonged period of time. The individual is currently well and self-isolating, there is no evidence of onward spread of the infection to anyone else," he said.

"But people should not touch sick or dead birds."

The bird flu outbreak has also led to Knoxwood Wildlife Rescue at Wigton being advised not to take in injured birds.

Owner George Scott said: "We have a number of birds already at our centre and we were advised to take in more would be detrimental to those we are already caring for. There are a lot of dead or dying birds on the Solway coast, and unfortunately some of these include geese and swans. But the watchword is 'Take Care'. The public should not be approaching these birds with bird flu sweeping the country."

People are offered anti-viral treatment after exposure to infected birds. This stops the virus multiplying in their body and should prevent them from becoming unwell. It also helps reduce the risk of passing the infection on to others.

Bird Flu has been found in all four regions of the UK this winter, and said Mr McCrea, is a highly infectious and transmissible strain.

Mr McCrea's comments followed the latest outbreak of bird flu on a smallholding at Lazonby. This followed previous cases at a premises near Silecroft in south Cumbria last November and a site near Aspatria in December. A 3km protection and 10km surveillance zone remains in place surrounding all three premises.

"We still have two months of birds migrating here, so bird flu is still a real threat. All poultry, no matter how small the flock, should be housed and biosecurity practised," addd Mr McCrea.

A Cumbria County Council spokesperson, said: “When suspected cases of bird flu are reported, they are referred to the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) who will then investigate the site.

“Information about the findings in wild birds is available on the government website (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu#wild-birds-in-the-uk).

“If you find dead wild waterfowl (swans, geese or ducks) or other dead wild birds, such as gulls or birds of prey, you should report them to the Defra helpline (03459 335577). DO NOT touch them or pick them up.”

The County Council's comments come after a spate of swan deaths at Hammonds Pond in Carlisle, although it has yet to be confirmed if they were suffering from bird flu.