Friday, December 23, 2005

News - Avian flu scare at NSW farm

A NSW property has become the first in Australia to be locked down because of bird flu fears after a chicken had a weak reaction to an avian influenza test.


Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran yesterday revealed the quarantine measure had been taken as a precautionary step on the property at Wentworth, near the Victorian border.

Fears were sparked after the chicken was submitted to a NSW laboratory for routine testing with suspected Marek's disease, a common endemic disease.

Subsequent tests found the weak reaction to an avian influenza test. However, further laboratory testing excluded highly pathenogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

The CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Canberra is now conducting further testing for bird flu on samples from the chicken.

Chickens and ducks on the property were yesterday placed in cages to avoid contact with migratory birds. But consumers have been advised that it is safe to eat chicken.

Mr McGauran said it was also highly unlikely the chicken had contracted the low pathenogenic influenza strain.

"While it is the remotest of possibilities that any avian influenza variant is present we are taking every precaution," he said.

"Birds are contained on site and with the highly pathenogenic strain ruled out there is no risk to humans."

Concern about an influenza pandemic has intensified in the past year amid fears that avian influenza could mutate into a form that could be transmitted between people.

More than 60 people have already died from avian influenza, mostly in South-East Asia, and experts warned this week that the virus may be mutating to become resistant to the main drug used to fight it.

This came after a 13-year-old Vietnamese girl died despite receiving the right doses of the drug early in her illness.

The Federal Government has spent $555 million on pandemic preparedness and has stockpiled enough anti-viral drugs to give half the population.

However, experts are now warning that new antiviral drugs must be developed to fight the disease.

Mr McGauran yesterday insisted the risk of HPAI was very low but authorities were taking a cautious approach.

"This is consistent with Australia's conservative approach to managing animal health and disease risks," he said.

"I would stress that there is no food safety implications to consumers of poultry products arising from this incident."

Mr McGauran said he would keep the public informed of all results.

A team of experts from NSW yesterday visited the Wentworth property, which is understood not to be a poultry farm, and found no sick or dead birds in the flock.

Tests conducted were negative. However, Mr McGauran said there were "some weak inconclusive results".

The Courier-Mail: Avian flu scare at NSW farm [24dec05]

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