Australia Guards its Shores Against Bird Flu
Author: Michael Byrnes
This is the time of year, the southern spring, when migratory and nomadic birds migrate south -- many through Asia -- to land in northern parts of Australia.
"Certainly they are a potential risk," Carson Creagh, spokesman for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, told Reuters on Friday.
Many birds fly in from Indonesia, the latest hotspot for avian flu, most landing in the Broome area of far northwestern Australia or in the Northern Territory. Many also by-pass mainland Asia to fly down the country's eastern coastline.
Bird flu has killed 64 people in four Asian countries since late 2003 and has been found in birds in Russia and Europe.
Four Indonesians have died od the disease since July and 17 people are under observation for bird flu symptoms, officials said on Friday.
Stringent controls in Australia have been keeping the pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu at bay, officials said.
Blood samples of migratory birds from Cape York in the far north of Australia's Queensland state across to the Northern Territory and the Kimberley area in northwest Western Australia state, had shown no evidence of the H5N1 strain, Creagh said.
Surveys around Broome had also shown no sign of H5N1.
"A survey just completed in the Northern Territory also showed negative results," Creagh said.
Most birds that fly to Australia are water birds or waders, which are unlikely to come into contact with other wild birds.
Even though migratory birds can carry bird flu, work by the United Nations shows that by far the major cause of spread of the disease is through transport of poultry or poultry products.
Typically market poultry comes into contact with farm poultry, spreading the infection.
"Or (through) people who have done bizarre things such as drinking the blood of infected birds, (or) sucking mucus out of the nostrils of fighting cocks," Creagh said.
Australia is also screening flights from 11 countries in Asia, including China, Japan, Vietnam and Southeast Asia to stop people from bringing poultry products into the country.
"Its still not uncommon for people to be bringing in barbequed ducks, packets of duck meat, chicken feet, duck tongues, whole barbecued chickens," Creagh said.
Screening takes place through a combination of detector dogs, x-rays and physical inspection of bags.
Australian customs have over the past year seized poultry meat, eggs and feathers, he said.