UK man gets H5N1 bird flu because he lived with 20 ducks in his home

The back story is that in the UK currently there is an H5N1 bird flu problem. The poultry industry and wild birds in the UK are going through the worst winter for avian flu on record. About 2.3 million birds have been culled to limit transmission. The disease is severe and fast spreading. The public have been told to not touch sick or dying birds.

Alan Gosling loves ducks and he caught avian flu from them
Alan Gosling loves ducks and he caught avian flu from them. Photo: SWNS

Avian flu can be transmitted to people. It is therefore zoonotic. Alan Gosling, 79, lives in Buckfastleigh, Devon, UK. More than 100 Muscovy ducks lived on his property with 20 inside his home. He contracted a particularly dangerous strain of H5N1 from his companion ducks it appears. He is isolating himself but the reports state that he is not currently ill. There is no evidence of transmission from him to anybody else.

The story evolved because Gosling’s daughter-in-law, Ellesha Gosling, 26, had been ordered to test for the disease after waterfowl in the area where they live were found to be positive for the disease. They’ve been culled. This alerted Alan Gosling. She said that the past couple of weeks have been “hell for this family”.

What she means is that Alan Gosling had to see all his ducks killed and “they were like his closest friends” according to his daughter-in-law.

He pleaded for them to be spared but the 20 ducks that had shared his home were culled on New Year’s Day by a team in hazmat suits, she said.

The Muscovy ducks had lived in a public area near his home. He fed them for a while and then encouraged them to come into his home.

Professor Ian Brown, head of virology at the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, said:

“This is the first reported human case [in the UK] with this particular strain of H5N1 so it is an extremely rare event, even though this virus is currently affecting bird populations across Asia, Europe and Africa in particular.”

He believes that Mr Gosling contracted the disease because of “unusual and continuous exposure to a large number of kept H5-infected birds in and around [the home of Mr Gosling]. There should be no alarm because the risk from the strain to people is thought to be very low. In fact, he said that “there is no evidence that this virus is able to transmit from one person to another.”

All of Mr Gosling’s contacts have been traced. The last time a person contracted bird flu in the UK was in 2006. There had been fewer than half a dozen cases recorded previously. All were confirmed as the H7 strain.

Another expert, Professor Isabel Oliver, the chief scientific officer at the Health Security Agency said that the risk of avian flu to the general public is very low. However, some strains do have the potential to spread to humans which is why they have “robust systems in place to detect these early and take action.”

Update the next day: it’s actually a very sad story this one because Alan Gosling was very, very attached to these ducks. He raised many of them from chicks. He said:

“I can’t believe it-some of them I had for 12, 13 years since they were tiny chicks and I hand-reared them. They all had different stories-and I had to watch them being killed.”

He is a retired train driver and although he said that he felt fine, the day his ducks were culled was “the worst moment of my life.”

He is a father of three. He was ordered to remain inside his home. Both him and his family claimed that they had not been told of the confirmed infection before they read about it in the news.

On Tuesday, January 11, 2022, The Times reports that this now famous bird flu sufferer is on the lookout for new ducks after he subsequently tested negative for the disease. He says that he has no symptoms. It is unclear when his 18-day isolation period ends but it started on December 22.

When it is over, he said that he will be looking for some more new birds to replace the flock that he lost. He has already been offered some, he said. And being in isolation does not make much of a difference to him because “I don’t go outside at the moment because of all the other pandemics. I’m fine, I’ve got no aches and pains or anything.”

His daughter-in-law said: “He tested positive over the New Year but the latest test has come back negative. We still need some more details about what that means for Dad and when he can go out again. It’s been such a horrible time for him.”

Gosling is still angry about the destruction of his flock. He said “I would like to have my bloody ducks back, I miss them like hell. They broke my heart-they have been with me for such a long time.

Update Saturday, January 15, 2022: The Times reports that Alan Gosling has been banned from keeping ducks for a year. The report comes from his family. His daughter-in-law said: “It hurts because that’s what was keeping him going. They took away all his friends”. She was referring to the loss of all his ducks and now he can’t replace them for 12 months.

Some more on zoonotic diseases below:

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