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Avian influenza made notifiable

Avian influenza made notifiable

Health Minister Annette King says the family of viruses responsible for the avian influenza outbreak in a number of Asian countries has been added to New Zealand's schedule of notifiable diseases.

The Order in Council adding the family of viruses to the schedule was signed yesterday, will be gazetted tomorrow and come into effect on Thursday.

Currently eight countries are experiencing outbreaks of avian influenza caused by H5N1, a virus in the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) family. Authorities are culling poultry flocks in an effort to curb the spread of the disease, and minimise the possibility of the virus combining with a human influenza virus. There have been no cases in New Zealand in poultry, or in humans.

Ms King said while worldwide there were still no reported cases of human-to-human transmission of H5N1, it was prudent to be prepared for that possibility, as well as for the possibility of somebody becoming infected through contact with poultry in one of the affected countries and then travelling to New Zealand.

"Health experts internationally are warning us that if this virus combines with a human influenza virus we could have a global epidemic of a new and devastating illness which would be many times worse than SARS," she said.

"With that in mind we have made highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) notifiable. Making avian influenza in humans notifiable allows health authorities to gather the information they need to respond appropriately to any future cases."

Ms King said risks such as that posed by H5N1 were difficult to quantify and manage. "Our best course of action is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This is an important tool for our health authorities in their preparation."


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