Saturday, January 14, 2006

News - Low risk of bird flu in NZ, says study - 14 Jan 2006 - Health & fitness

New Zealand faces a medium risk of bird flu spreading, but Britain could be hit hard, an international study finds. British risk consultant Maplecroft has ranked 161 countries on its overall risk for a pandemic, and while New Zealand's overall risk is low, the risk rises to medium for an inability to contain an outbreak. Britain was the only Western country considered at extreme risk from the flu. It was 25th overall, but first among those countries to which the human virus is likely to spread. Maplecroft attributed this to Britain's widespread urbanisation, high population density, and the large number of visitors to the country. Australia was assessed at low risk of not being able to control the disease, but faced a far higher risk of the virus reaching its shores and spreading. Maplecroft's map of the probable global impact of the pandemic comes as British scientists report the first signs that the avian flu virus H5N1 may be mutating into a form more infectious to humans, based on analysis of the two children who died of bird flu in eastern Turkey. Overall, New Zealand was rated 145th out of 161 countries, behind Australia at 158. The consultants base their rankings on World Health Organisation data, factoring in 32 variables such as tourist numbers, environmental conditions such as temperature, live animal trade, and the density of poultry, pigs and other livestock. Countries with reported human cases of bird flu, such as Turkey, Vietnam and China, were classed as being of high or extreme risk. National health spokesman Tony Ryall said people should not be too worried, but there was no room for complacency. He said there were still big gaps in the Government's planning, as shown by being rated behind Australia in the ability to contain a pandemic. Questions remained over how the sick would be treated at home, the supply of essential medicines such as insulin, and overall leadership. Mr Ryall said there was no one person or agency providing overall leadership. "We don't know whether this bird flu outbreak will cause a pandemic and come to New Zealand. But flu pandemics will occur again in future as in the past, so we must be prepared." The ministry's acting director of public health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said the report did not evaluate a country's actual preparedness, but indirect measures, such as per capita GDP and the number of doctors. He said New Zealand preparations were well-developed. The ministry's national pandemic plan was continually updated in line with World Health Organisation recommendations. A Herald-DigiPoll national survey found 55 per cent of New Zealanders believed a bird flu outbreak was either likely or highly likely to happen.

Low risk of bird flu in NZ, says study - 14 Jan 2006 - Health & fitness

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