Tuesday, November 29, 2005

News - Reuters AlertNet - Aborigines on Australia's bird-flu frontline

CANBERRA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Aborigines in Australia's remote north and authorities in Indonesia and East Timor have been drafted in to watch for signs of sick or dead migratory birds as Australia's frontline defence against bird flu.

Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, however, played down the chances of bird flu reaching Australia by migrating birds, as the water fowl most likely to carry the disease did not generally migrate to Australia from Asia.

"We've worked with indigenous communities spread throughout northern Australia to try and detect signs of sick birds," McGauran told reporters on Tuesday at the beginning of a national simulated bird-flu exercise.

Australia has not recorded any cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has killed 68 people in Asia since late 2003. But Australia has recorded five cases of the H7 influenza subtype in poultry since 1975.

McGauran said the kinds of birds likely to migrate to Australia were shorebirds, or waders, which were less likely to be a bird-flu threat than migrating water fowl, such as geese, swans and ducks.

Reuters AlertNet - Aborigines on Australia's bird-flu frontline

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