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ANU, China team up to fight bird flu

Australian National University researchers are joining forces with scientists in China to find treatments for avian influenza.

The new research centre will be based at the John Curtin School for Medical Research at the ANU in Canberra.

The Australian and Chinese governments have each contributed $1.5 million in funding.

Head of scientific programs at the ANU Dr Ed Bertram says Australia’s vulnerability to bird flu makes the program vital.

“The latest outbreak has been in Indonesia with a very high rate of fatality and so if avian flu does mutate for ease of human to human spread it wouldn’t take too much for the virus to get into Australia,” he said.

“So we need to have a number of measures to prevent this and I think this project is just one aspect of trying to identify ways that we can help with fighting bird flu.”

Dr Bertram says he hopes the research will ultimately lead to a vaccine.

“This project really is a new area of investigation, so we’re really trying to look at alternations in the genome of individuals that can enhance resistance to avian flu, which may give us leads to developing specific therapies that we could incorporate into vaccine designed to fight bird flu,” he said.

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Key Facts About Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) and Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus

What You Should Know About Avian Flu
* Key Facts
* Infections in Humans
* Questions & Answers
* Current Situation

This fact sheet provides general information about avian influenza (bird flu) and information about one type of bird flu, called avian influenza A (H5N1), that has caused infections in birds and in humans. Also see Questions and Answers on the CDC website and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the World Health Organization (WHO) website.
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
Avian influenza in birds

Avian influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These influenza viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.

Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with contaminated secretions or excretions or with surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with surfaces (such as dirt or cages) or materials (such as water or feed) that have been contaminated with the virus.

Infection with avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry causes two main forms of disease that are distinguished by low and high extremes of virulence. The “low pathogenic” form may go undetected and usually causes only mild symptoms (such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production). However, the highly pathogenic form spreads more rapidly through flocks of poultry. This form may cause disease that affects multiple internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90-100% often within 48 hours.
Human infection with avian influenza viruses

There are many different subtypes of type A influenza viruses. These subtypes differ because of changes in certain proteins on the surface of the influenza A virus (hemagglutinin [HA] and neuraminidase [NA] proteins). There are 16 known HA subtypes and 9 known NA subtypes of influenza A viruses. Many different combinations of HA and NA proteins are possible. Each combination represents a different subtype. All known subtypes of influenza A viruses can be found in birds.

Usually, “avian influenza virus” refers to influenza A viruses found chiefly in birds, but infections with these viruses can occur in humans. The risk from avian influenza is generally low to most people, because the viruses do not usually infect humans. However, confirmed cases of human infection from several subtypes of avian influenza infection have been reported since 1997. Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chicken, ducks, and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and has been limited, inefficient and unsustained.

“Human influenza virus” usually refers to those subtypes that spread widely among humans. There are only three known A subtypes of influenza viruses (H1N1, H1N2, and H3N2) currently circulating among humans. It is likely that some genetic parts of current human influenza A viruses came from birds originally. Influenza A viruses are constantly changing, and they might adapt over time to infect and spread among humans.

During an outbreak of avian influenza among poultry, there is a possible risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds.

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of avian influenza may depend on which virus caused the infection.
Studies done in laboratories suggest that some of the prescription medicines approved in the United States for human influenza viruses should work in treating avian influenza infection in humans. However, influenza viruses can become resistant to these drugs, so these medications may not always work. Additional studies are needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of these medicines.
Avian Influenza A (H5N1)

Influenza A (H5N1) virus – also called “H5N1 virus” – is an influenza A virus subtype that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can be deadly to them. H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but infections with these viruses have occurred in humans. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.
Avian influenza A (H5N1) outbreaks

For current information about avian influenza A (H5N1) outbreaks, see our Outbreaks page.
Human health risks during the H5N1 outbreak

Of the few avian influenza viruses that have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, H5N1 has caused the largest number of detected cases of severe disease and death in humans. However, it is possible that those cases in the most severely ill people are more likely to be diagnosed and reported, while milder cases go unreported. For the most current information about avian influenza and cumulative case numbers, see the World Health Organization (WHO) avian influenza website.

Of the human cases associated with the ongoing H5N1 outbreaks in poultry and wild birds in Asia and parts of Europe, the Near East and Africa, more than half of those people reported infected with the virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults and have resulted from direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces. In general, H5N1 remains a very rare disease in people. The H5N1 virus does not infect humans easily, and if a person is infected, it is very difficult for the virus to spread to another person.

While there has been some human-to-human spread of H5N1, it has been limited, inefficient and unsustained. For example, in 2004 in Thailand, probable human-to-human spread in a family resulting from prolonged and very close contact between an ill child and her mother was reported. Most recently, in June 2006, WHO reported evidence of human-to-human spread in Indonesia. In this situation, 8 people in one family were infected. The first family member is thought to have become ill through contact with infected poultry. This person then infected six family members. One of those six people (a child) then infected another family member (his father). No further spread outside of the exposed family was documented or suspected.

Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population. If H5N1 virus were to gain the capacity to spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic (worldwide outbreak of disease) could begin. For more information about influenza pandemics, see PandemicFlu.gov.

No one can predict when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation in Asia and Europe very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.
Treatment and vaccination for H5N1 virus in humans

The H5N1 virus that has caused human illness and death in Asia is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral medications commonly used for influenza. Two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir and zanamavir, would probably work to treat influenza caused by H5N1 virus, but additional studies still need to be done to demonstrate their effectiveness.

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Bird flu pandemic poses ‘great risk’ to Australia

Dr Heymann says bird flu will continue to pose a risk to humans.

The head of the communicable disease program at the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Australia will be at great risk if a bird flu pandemic occurs.

Speaking in Canberra last night, David Heymann told health workers that influenza viruses from bird populations will continue to threaten humans.

Dr Heymann says it is not a question of whether a pandemic will occur, but when.

“Because of international travel and the speed with which people might be infected, [people] in one part of the world can come to another part of the world still in the incubation period of a disease and the develop signs and symptoms of that disease once they are home,” he said.

He said WHO had evidence of two or three incidences in Vietnam and Indonesia where the H5N1 virus had spread from an infected person to someone who was in close contact with them.

Dr Heymann says those cases should be a warning to health workers.

“Fortunately health workers have not been infected with H5N1 from their patients, it’s been much closer contact than that, it’s been home care where family members may not know the means of protecting themselves as they help those who are sick,” he said.

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linkhttp://abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/08/17/2008476.htm

A sample of the bird flu virus that killed a woman on Bali has been sent to a World Health Organisation (WHO) laboratory to allay fears that it has not mutated into human form, Health Ministry officials said.

Indonesia had confirmed its first human bird flu death on the popular resort island on Monday raising fears of an impact on tourism.

Triono Soendoro, head of the Ministry’s research and development, said the sample had been sent to the WHO laboratory in the United States as a precautionary measure.

“We have sent a sample of the virus from Bali to CDC in Atlanta this week,” he told AFP, referring to the US Government’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari was quoted by state-run news agency Antara as saying the Government has sent the sample to convince the international community that the virus has not mutated into a more dangerous form that can be spread between humans.

Earlier this month, Indonesia said it would not share bird flu samples with the WHO until it is guaranteed access to affordable medicines to treat victims of the deadly virus.

The statement came after the WHO accused Indonesia of putting the world at risk by failing to share its samples, but officials denied the move was in response to pressure.

Mutation fears

Scientists worry the bird flu virus could mutate into a form easily spread among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

The fear stems from past influenza pandemics.

A flu pandemic in 1918, just after the end of World War I, killed 20 million people worldwide.

Mr Supari stressed the virus sample was purely sent for research purposes only.

Avian influenza was found in poultry on Bali more than a year ago.

Thousands of birds in the affected Jembrana district on the north-west of the island had been culled as a precautionary measure and poultry was banned from being transported into or out of the district for one month.

Indonesia has now reported 104 confirmed bird flu cases, with 83 deaths, with the latest case confirmed with the deadly virus on Thursday.

H5N1 is endemic across nearly all of Indonesia, which has recorded the highest number of bird flu deaths in the world since reporting its first case in July 2005.

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Officials from Indonesia’s National Bird Flu Commission have confirmed the disease has been transmitted to humans in Bali for the first time.

Tests from Jakarta have confirmed a 29-year-old woman was infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu when she died last week.

Her five-year-old daughter was suffering from similar symptoms when she died a week earlier.

Officials are still waiting for test results to confirm whether a sick two-year-old from the same village has also been infected.

The head of the bird flu commission, Bayu Krisnamurti, says there were many dead chickens around the woman’s home in the island’s west.

Joko Suyono from the National Bird Flu centre in Jakarta has told reporters that villagers fed the chicken carcasses to pigs rather than burning them.

Epidemiologists have warned that transfer through a third species is one way that bird flu could mutate into a form that could cause a human pandemic.

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Health officials in Western Australia say people travelling to Bali should avoid visiting the island’s small villages, after a suspected outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus there.

Pathologists at Indonesia’s National Bird Flu Centre in Jakarta are examining pathology samples taken from a woman admitted to Bali’s main hospital in a critical condition with pneumonia at the weekend.

The woman’s five-year-old daughter died just over a week ago after suffering similar symptoms.

WA Health Department spokesman Andrew Robertson says even though the case has not been confirmed, travellers in Bali should be careful.

“If you go to Bali, going to the main tourists resorts is fine, going in to the main capital of Bali should be fine, but we would advise people not to go out in to the small villages where there may be the possibility of exposure,” he said.

Dr Robertson says if the case is confirmed it is most likely to be the H-five-N-1 strain of the virus.

“This is a strain that’s been around since 2003 and has been in some 190 odd case or 190 odd deaths including 80 odd in Indonesia, it’s certainly prevalent in parts of Indonesia, it’s been seen throughout Java it has been seen previously in Bali.”

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http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21875923-421,00.html

A MAJOR exercise has identified gaps in Australia’s preparations for a deadly bird flu pandemic.

The nation’s medical facilities, communications systems and health workforce were all found wanting in the $4 million test run.

A report on the exercise came amid warnings yesterday that 48,000 Australians could be killed and 150,000 put in hospital in a bird flu pandemic.

Health Minister Tony Abbott said such an outbreak would cause “extreme fear” in the community, adding that about half of all Australians could potentially be treated with anti-viral drugs from the nation’s pandemic stockpile.

Operation Cumpston – conducted last year – found GPs, pharmacies and primary health providers should be playing a bigger role in influenza pandemic planning.

The report also recommended better planning of infrastructure.

It called for Australia’s pandemic planning to be updated, and said the capacity to mount a long-term response had not been tested.

The Federal Government has spent almost $600 million preparing for a bird flu pandemic, but a vaccine is yet to be produced.

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