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Bird Flu - Archives


Aussie Scientists Exposed to H5N1
Three Australian researchers have been exposed to bird flu:

The CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] scientists had infected live ducks with the H5N1 strain of bird flu before killing them to assess the impact of the virus about 1pm Monday.

But the experiment went pear shaped about 1pm Monday when the scientists realised that they had failed to reactivate air filters in their specially designed suits, increasing their risk of exposure to the deadly virus.

The trio were immediately removed from the laboratory and taken away for testing and treatment.

CSIRO media liaison manager Marilyn Chalkley said the treatment was precautionary and blood tests showed no signs of infection.

March 7th, 2007

Bird Flu - Panic Over?

Australia's top doctor says the world may have avoided a bird flu pandemic:

Chief medical officer Prof John Horvath said global measures to prevent the H5N1 virus could have staved off a mass outbreak.

"It may be that the world has already averted a pandemic by the actions it has taken in response to H5N1, such as extensive culling of poultry and isolation of infected humans," Prof Horvath said.

Qualified agreement comes from Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Prof Peter Doherty:

"Australians should rest assured that this country is as prepared for a possible H5N1 pandemic as any nation on earth, including the United States . . . however, there are no certainties," Prof Doherty said.

"In general though, the more time goes by, the better off we are likely to be.

"Even if we duck the bullet this time, the effort and resources expended here will have ensured that our capacity to deal with an unexpected invader is enhanced."

November 20th, 2006


No Worries, Mate
Bird flu continues to spread in Indonesia, but here in Australia, just over the seas, we're not worried. About 1,000 people are taking part in an exercise to simulate responses to an influenza pandemic.

[Health Minister] Mr Abbott said it was vital for the nation to know how its systems would cope if it faced a threat from bird flu.

For the moment, people should not be too frightened of an outbreak occurring in Australia.

"The threat level is unchanged. So far there have been almost 100 deaths (worldwide) from bird flu in calendar 2006, there's been another 60 cases of people who had bird flu but recovered,'' Mr Abbott said.

"That's somewhat up on last year but nevertheless we don't believe that anything that has happened this year, in reality, is actually something to change our state of alert.

October 17th, 2006


Australia Next?

Once bird flu reaches Papua New Guinea it will quickly move to Australia, according to a WHO official.


Two professors say it has already arrived.

February 24th, 2006


Back from the Dead

The “dead-cat drug that just won’t die.” That’s how The Australian newspaper describes the Relenza anti-flu drug this morning.


In a lengthy article, the newspaper examines the controversy over the drug, noting that last week GlaxoSmithKline quietly reopened a Relenza production line at its factory here in Melbourne. The article suggests that the company is embarrassed at having earlier effectively deciding the drug had little future. Indeed, the paper cites court documents in which GSK states that Tamiflu is superior.


Relenza's return is an obvious by-product of a global hysteria over bird flu and the subsequent fear that we could face a new global flu pandemic.


The belated embrace of Relenza by the federal [Australian] Government was confirmed on December 16 with its order for 1.8 million "additional courses" of the home-grown flu drug. Additional indeed. Until that order, Australia's Relenza reserves stood at a grand total of 24,570 courses.


Not that we stood unprepared. Even though Australian taxpayers effectively spent $247 million on the development of Relenza, the Government ended up building its $555 million pandemic defence around Relenza's dominant competitor, Roche's Tamiflu.


So why did we spend $114 million on a Tamiflu stockpile? Most likely because Relenza's owners, GSK, had demonstrated such a palpable lack of confidence in the safety, effectiveness and value of the drug.

February 8th, 2006


Australia – All Clear

Health authorities have determined that a sick chicken at a farm in rural NSW does not have bird flu. Earlier, the farm had been placed under quarantine.

December 24th, 2005


Oh No!

Here in Australia the authorities have quarantined a farm in rural NSW after concerns that a backyard chicken flock may have been exposed to bird flu.


It is the first time Australian officials have isolated a property in response to concerns about avian flu. In October inspectors quarantined 102 pigeons imported from Canada which had been exposed to the virus. Three of the birds were destroyed.


Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran today said the quarantining of the Wentworth property was a precautionary measure after one of its chickens recorded a weak reaction to an avian influenza test.


…Mr McGauran said samples had been sent to the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory for further testing. "While there is no evidence of any outbreak of avian influenza on the property, it has been placed under quarantine as a precautionary measure," he said. "This is consistent with Australia's conservative approach to managing animal health and disease risks.”

December 23rd, 2005


Bird Flu Ghost City

About 40 or 50 years ago it was joked that my city, Melbourne, was so boring that it was virtually a ghost town. For example, there was the famous “quote” from Ava Gardner, filming the movie “On the Beach” in Melbourne in 1959, that “’On the Beach' is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it." (It later transpired that a journalist had manufactured that particular quote. Ava never said it.)


Well, now we’re about to become that way again if bird flu arrives. The headline in our local Herald Sun newspaper says it all “Ghost city plan to fight bird flu.”


[The state of] Victoria will be locked down if bird flu strikes here, under radical plans unveiled by the State Government. Melbourne would become a virtual ghost town as sporting venues, concerts, churches, cinemas, the casino and other areas were shut down.

Venues where "many people congregate" would be closed immediately if a case of human-to-human bird flu happened in a public place in Victoria. The Commonwealth Games would be cancelled if an outbreak happened before March, and major shopping centres and public transport could also be shut.


Premier Steve Bracks told the Herald Sun the State Government would be forced to ban people from gathering in public places. "If a pandemic affected 30 per cent of the Victorian population, estimates in the plan say this could lead to almost 25,000 hospitalisations and more than 10,000 deaths," he said.

December 8th, 2005


New Bird Flu Vaccine Could Take Two More Years

Australian newspapers are carrying some useful reports on the rush to develop new bird flu vaccines, based on remarks by Brian McNamee, the chief executive of local pharmaceuticals company CSL.


Among his comments:


"I think it likely that there will be a prototype vaccine that stimulates the immune response," Dr McNamee said. "What we don't know is what the dose is and whether we need an adjuvant (an ingredient or treatment that enhances the immune response) – they're the two questions.


"I think those questions will be answered in the next two years. It could be faster than that, but if you need an adjuvant it may take that long. We need to be realistic."


Dr McNamee said CSL was optimistic and working hard on developing a vaccine for the H5N1 strain of bird flu as soon as possible, but the company could not forecast the data it needed to develop a vaccine….CSL was one of four major companies globally trying to develop a bird flu vaccine, but all of the companies had agreed to share data.


"We would feel that Sanofi and ourselves probably have the best data coming out shortly, GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) have some interesting data as well, and Chiron are doing some interesting work with an adjuvanted vaccine," Dr McNamee said. "We well know that there's not enough manufacturing capacity in the whole world so we have to behave this way."

November 24th 2005


New Website

The Australian government has launched a new website, with information on bird flu. It includes medical information, corporate pandemic planning guidance and travel advice.

November 23rd 2005


Australia Announces Bird Flu “SWAT Teams”

Australia plans to form rapid deployment teams to combat bird flu outbreaks in Asia, as part of a A$100 million aid program announced by Prime Minister John Howard.


Howard said that “Australia had sophisticated public health expertise that should be shared with neighbouring countries to bolster their disaster planning.”


"The greatest thing we can do is to help them build their own capacity," he said. "It's a much easier thing for a country such as Australia or the United States or Japan that has a very high per capita GDP and has a very well-developed public health system, but even those systems can be put under enormous strain in exceptional circumstances. It's a lot more difficult for countries that are less developed and plainly we want to be a good neighbour and we want to help build their capacity."

November 20th, 2005


Pulling up the Drawbridge

Australia might close its borders in the event of a global flu pandemic, according to Health Minister Tony Abbott, just back from the international avian flu conference in Canada.


Will this work? According to WHO’s excellent booklet “Avian Influenza: Assessing the Pandemic Threat” (p25, pdf file), during the disastrous 1918-19 pandemic,


quarantine and isolation were widely imposed, but probably did little to stop the contagion. Predictably, quarantine could delay spread somewhat but, having no impact on population susceptibility, could do nothing to reduce the numbers who would eventually fall ill. Australia was the notable exception. By maintaining a strict maritime quarantine, that country managed to stave off arrival of the epidemic until the start of 1919. By that time the virus had lost some its lethality, and Australia experienced a milder, though somewhat longer, period of influenza activity than elsewhere.


But, according to the excellent Effect Measure blog:


China says it will shut its borders to keep human bird flu in, while most other countries are making plans to keep bird flu out. Nice ideas. Neither will likely work….It is inevitable that these kinds of restrictions will come into play if a pandemic is starting. It is just as inevitable they will be costly and will fail. It isn't even sure they will slow things up much. This is apparently an obligatory response that can't be stopped. But it shouldn't also prevent us from beginning the kind of community mobilization that will really make a difference in managing the consequences of a pandemic, should one come.

October 28th, 2005


Aussie Newspapers Whip up a Panic

“Panic about a possible bird flu pandemic sweeps the nation,” according to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, citing as evidence a doctor who said “patients were swarming into her Eastern Suburbs practice claiming they were travelling to Asia or had been placed on a waiting list for the drug by a chemist and wanted a script.”


And on the website of the Telegraph’s parent company is a report that, “some doctors and medical workers have devised ‘exit strategies’ to flee their homes if human-to-human bird flu takes hold.” Not a shred of evidence is presented.

October 24th, 2005


News Round-Up (Most of It Bad)

The Thai government has confirmed its first bird flu fatality in a year. It is the country’s 13th bird flu death. The official WHO announcement is here.


In Australia, three pigeons – part of a shipment of 102 racing and show pigeons from Canada – were found to have bird flu antibodies. Canadian quarantine authorities had reportedly certified the infected birds as disease-free.


Taiwan has reportedly discovered H5N1-infected birds that were being smuggled in from China.


A lengthy report in the Washington Post says Indonesia has been engaged in a two-year cover-up of its growing bird flu problem.


The Economist has an excellent report on the global fight against the virus.

October 21st, 2005


Thumbs Up for Tamiflu

An Aussie scientist has said Tamiflu will likely be effective against any bird flu that hits Australia.


Professor Bill Rawlinson, a virologist from the Prince of Wales Hospital, said there was no need for people to panic that Tamiflu was no longer an effective vaccine….A bird flu outbreak in Australia would be the result of a new strain able to spread from humans to humans, and such a strain was more likely than not to be sensitive to Tamiflu, he said. Australian health officials have stockpiled Tamiflu, as well as a similar drug, Relenza. Professor Rawlinson said any strain of flu resistant to Tamiflu was likely to also be resistant to Relenza. "If bird flu comes to Australia, it is possible that resistance will be a problem - but it is unlikely," he said.

October 17th, 2005