Thursday, October 27, 2005

Australia, bird migration, and H5N1

In the past two months, three million migratory birds have arrived in Australia. Migratory birds are the most likely way that bird flu will reach Australia's shores, writes Michael Richardson.

"As public health anxieties about a global influenza epidemic rise after confirmation that a deadly form of avian flu has reached Europe from Asia, a troubling question is being asked: how has the virus spread relatively quickly over such long distances? Is Australia at risk from the long march of contagious disease? ...

"The UN agencies monitoring bird flu outbreaks say more research is needed to solve the puzzle of how the virus is spread and how it changes into forms deadly to humans as well as birds. Meanwhile, it recommends that wild and farmed birds should not mix.

"The risk that deadly avian flu will be imported into Australia by migratory birds seems low. The biggest risk is the one that faces the world as a whole: if the H5N1 virus changes into a strain that can spread easily from person to person and has a high infection and death rate, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to stop. The consequences of a pandemic could be catastrophic."
The Age

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