- Indonesia is failing to send bird flu samples to official
laboratories, creating a "data blackout" that could have serious
implications for New Zealand as it seeks to ward off a pandemic.
- Experts said submitting samples for testing at United
Nations-approved facilities was key to global surveillance of the virus,
which it is feared will mutate into a form easily passed between people.
- They also warned new research unveiled this week in the
United States, in which scientists failed to combine the deadly H5N1 strain
with common flu in a way that could cause a pandemic, was not as encouraging
as it might seem. "I think the situation in Indonesia is worrying
for the rest of the world, and it is rapidly catching up, in terms of the
number of outbreaks in poultry species, with Vietnam," said Lance
Jennings, a Christchurch virologist.
- Jennings, who works as a consultant for the UN's World
Health Organisation (WHO), said some samples from indonesia were getting
out. "One of the major issues with a number of countries is that
they are putting caveats on those samples; for example, that the information
is not allowed to be widely disseminated," he said.
- He said the WHO was working to try to find a resolution.
"The WHO does manage a global influenza surveillance network and it
is imperative that countries do contribute openly to this network."
- Experts say some countries have been reluctant to disclose
the extent of bird flu infection for fear of sowing panic and damaging
- The weekly scientific journal Nature on July 28 reported
that few, if any, avian flu samples from Indonesia had been sent to official
laboratories for sequencing over the past year. It said the data blackout
came as surveys of the country were revealing a startling number of previously
unrecognised avian flu outbreaks.
- Peter Roeder, a consultant with the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation in Indonesia, said the first samples since August last year
had finally arrived at the World Organisation for Animal Health reference
library in Geelong, Australia.
- Without proper sequencing of bird flu viruses, it is
difficult to tell whether they are mutating or how human cases correspond
to those in birds.
- Seven bird flu deaths in an Indonesian family this year
led to fear the virus could spread from one person to another as no nearby
avian source could be identified. "It's not really surprising in
countries like Indonesia that there are possibly unrecognised pockets of
infection still bubbling away," said Environmental Science and Research
(ESR) health general manager Fiona Thomson-Carter. "Quite frankly,
Indonesia probably doesn't enjoy First World public health services,"
- ESR is the New Zealand agency that monitors new organisms
and holds the national collection of medical bacteria and viruses. Thomson-Carter
said the failure by US scientists to create a pandemic virus should not
get people too excited. "What nature accomplishes very elegantly,
scientists struggle to mimic in a laboratory situation."
- However, it was encouraging to know that should terrorists
get hold of the virus they would face significant challenges. "The
notion of the white-coated boffin being able to unleash merry hell on the
world doesn't always hold," she said.
- Biosecurity chiefs this year imported a small quantity
of the H5N1 virus and are keeping it under tight security at a lab in Upper
Hutt. Lab manager Joseph O'Keefe said Kiwi scientists would not be conducting
- Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD
- Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics
- Univ of West Indies
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- Go with God and in Good Health