Australia begins major flu testing

29-01-2007 | | |

Since 2003 the H5N1 virus has infected 269 people and killed 163, with nearly half the deaths occurring last year.

In Australia, researchers are gearing up to start a mass testing program of thousands of migratory birds, which aims to measure the progress of influenza viruses and develop an early warning system for mutations. Dr. Graham Burgess and his team from James Cook University, in Townsville, will collect samples from between 1000 and 2000 birds each year involving two species of whistling duck, black duck, grey teal and magpie geese.
“All these species are classified as nomadic, but there are some migratory species that will mix with them as well,” Dr. Burgess said. “While we know there is no indication that avian influenza is in Australia, we know it is in parts of Indonesia.”
Blood samples from the birds gave the researchers an indication of past infections, and swabs were taken from the respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract, he said. The birds are tested for all forms of influenza, and the presence of antibodies indicates that the bird has been infected before, prompting the researchers to test for the H5 and the H7 strains of the virus. The first sign of the H5N1 virus will be sent to the World Health Organisation influenza monitoring laboratory in Victoria.
Once the birds have been swabbed and bled, and a feather taken, they are banded and released. “We hope we will be testing some of them more than once – it is another way of tracking down the history of a bird,” Dr. Burgess said.