The highly pathogenic H5 bird flu virus found in a parrot from a quarantine facility in Essex has now been confirmed as the H5N1 strain, the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced.

The closest match is a strain identified in ducks in China earlier this year. It is not so similar to the strains detected recently in Romania and Turkey. It is not a strain that the Veterinary Laboratory Agency has seen before, Defra said.

Instructions to the State Veterinary Service issued by Defra have said that for the time being no birds currently held in quarantine will be released until a case by case risk assessment is carried out. Release of birds following assessment will depend upon a further review of laboratory results and checks on import documentation.

Defra has reviewed its overall risk assessment of the threat posed by highly pathogenic bird flu.  In light of the recent cases in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, and Romania it has concluded that there is a high risk of further global dispersion. The UK, like other countries, needs to increase its vigilance to mach this increased global risk, Defra said.

Ministers have also pressed the European Commission for a EU-wide ban on the importation of wild birds.

“This does not affect the UK’s official Avian Influenza disease-free status,” said chief vet Debby Reynolds.

“Our working hypothesis is that any infection in the birds from Surinam is likely to have arisen in the quarantine system, most likely in the facility in Essex where the Surinam birds shared airspace with the birds from Taiwan,” she added.