Avian Influenza

About this Item
SubjectsDiseases: Influenza; Animal Diseases; Eggs and Poultry
SpeakersIemma Mr Morris
BusinessMinisterial Statement

Page: 14635

    Ministerial Statement

    Mr MORRIS IEMMA (Lakemba—Minister for Health) [2.27 p.m.]: News reports from Vietnam this morning have advised that a further two people from the country's northern region have been hospitalised with suspected avian influenza, or bird flu as it more commonly known. According to official reports from the Vietnam Health Ministry, 21 people have now been detected as having contracted bird flu since the latest outbreak in December 2004, with 12 fatalities recorded. According to the latest update from the World Health Organization [WHO] 55 cases have been detected and 42 people have died since February 2004 as a result of contracting the virus.

    Influenza viruses that infect birds are called avian influenza viruses. It is understood that exposure to infected poultry and their faeces or dust or soil contaminated with faeces can result in human infection. However, the WHO advises that eating cooked chicken or eggs does not result in infection. In the past year more than 1.5 million fowls have been culled in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease, but the remaining threat of potential outbreaks is being acknowledged across the world. In an article in The Scotsman newspaper today, the country's chief medical officer, Dr Mac Armstrong, warned that the number of deaths in the United Kingdom resulting from a flu pandemic could range anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000.

    A human vaccine has not yet been developed for the new avian influenza strain and, although work on this has commenced, it is likely to take several months for a vaccine to be produced. I can assure members of the House that New South Wales is actively contributing to the national surveillance measures and our infectious disease and public health experts stand ready to respond to any threat of a potential outbreak in New South Wales, and, indeed, to work with the Commonwealth. In April 2003, the Government established the severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] task force, chaired by the eminent clinician Professor Ron Penny. The task force set a new benchmark in contingency planning, education and general preparedness for a potential infectious disease outbreak. It brought together clinical expertise in the areas of infectious disease, public health, virology, intensive care and respiratory medicine. It combined that with the logistical expertise of our emergency service and counter-disaster unit personnel.

    The SARS task force surveyed health facilities across New South Wales and identified around 1,000 beds, 460 isolation beds and almost 600 acute beds that could be quarantined for patients in the event of a major disease outbreak. New South Wales stands ready to invoke the recommendations and plans of that task force and reconvene an expert advisory panel in the event of a serious threat from avian influenza. I will advise the House further of any further developments in this matter.