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scientists react to news of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian flu

Dr John McCauley, MRC National Institute For Medical Research, said:

“The virus is most closely related to H5N1 viruses isolated over the past few months in the Czech Republic and Germany. In the Czech republic the outbreak was declared by the veterinary authorities as resolved in mid-August; it affected turkeys, chickens and. In Germany it has been reported to affect geese and ducks.

“It seems that there are three possible ways in which the virus may have reached UK-
•,by transport of infected meat products as was implicated in the outbreak in Holton, Suffolk in January and February
•,by transport of infected domestic poultry to UK in preparation for selling- there is very limited goose breeding in UK,
•,by migration of infected waterfowl.

“The EU has an ongoing survey of influenza in wild birds with each member state providing results on their national surveys. The conclusions for 2006 have been recently released. The conclusion was that the most effective way to find H5N1 in wild birds was to sample dead birds especially dead swans.

“The goose sector generally imports day-old goslings from Denmark, France and possibly Hungary (as in a report last year).”

Dr Graeme Laver, former professor of biochemistry & molecular biology at the Australian National University, said:

“I am not at all surprised. I believe that the H5N1 lethal bird virus will be with us for many years to come, causing sporadic outbreaks in poultry around the world and a very few human deaths. I doubt that H5N1 will cause a pandemic in humans.

“The present outbreak should be contained by slaughter and quarantine. It is most likely no humans will be infected. Economic loss will be the worst consequence. It is lucky the farm only contained 6,000 turkeys, not 60,000 or more. They would have all had to go.

“A much greater threat to the health of the British people is the approaching seasonal influenza virus. If the seasonal flu in the UK is as bad as it was in Australia this year you are in for a pretty bad time. Thousands will be ill and many will die. Doesn’t anyone care? The safe and effective anti-flu drugs Tamiflu and Relenza could, if used correctly, avoid much of this distress.”

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