The move by the Minister of Health to make avian influenza (bird flu) notifiable, is timely and prudent, however there is no need for the public to panic since it does not mean that its arrival in Canterbury is imminent, according to the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Dr Mel Brieseman.
Dr Brieseman said the number of cases occurring overseas at present is small and largely restricted to people who are known to have had close contact with avian species particularly chickens. There has been no confirmed case of human to human spread. The virus at this stage shows no indication of a transition to a form which is readily transmissible among humans.
“We are however monitoring the situation very closely,” Dr Brieseman said. “As in the case of SARS last year, notification is one part of the awareness process. Like SARS, nothing may happen in New Zealand, but we must be prepared. Awareness amongst public and practitioners with prompt notification under the new legislation will enable an appropriate response should anything develop.”
Dr Brieseman said at present the northern hemisphere was in the middle of its annual influenza season and as a result there would be many people returning or entering New Zealand with symptoms of the disease. Consideration of the possibility of bird flu need only be made however in people who had come in close contact with chickens.
‘We are advising travellers to infected countries to avoid going to areas where they are likely to make contact with potentially affected birds such as in live food markets.’