Regional experts share bird flu knowledge
8 March 2006
No longer challenged by geographical distance or differing time zones, Australian medical experts and foreign research teams are using live "telemedicine link technology" to transmit and share their knowledge of the deadly "bird flu" virus.
Recently an 18-year-old Vietnamese man spent 42 days in a Hanoi hospital with avian influenza, or bird flu, after eating swan from a local market. He ran a fever for two weeks, suffered waves of chest pain, respiratory failure, sudden breathlessness, but was released after his condition improved and he recovered.
This case study, complete with x-rays, diagnostics and the patient’s chart, was relayed to 130 University medical staff and students during a conference between three countries - including experts from Sydney, Hanoi and Tokyo – at Royal North Shore Hospital, in an attempt to find an antidote against the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza.
They used PowerPoint presentations to communicate information about case studies, pathology, and pandemic response strategies. The event was hosted by the University’s Hoc Mai Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that fosters medical links between Australia and Vietnam.
In the same week, researchers at the University’s Westmead Millennium Institute (WMI) received $450,750 in grants to conduct research into the spread of bird flu. Funding was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council and was announced by Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Tony Abbott, at the University.
“If a pandemic were to happen, we are as prepared as many countries, and better prepared than most,” said Mr Abbott, as he announced an extra $6.5 million for projects across several Australian universities aimed at preventing an outbreak of avian influenza.
The WMI researchers are investigating ways of rapidly and accurately detecting the virus whilst monitoring its spread in human populations. Associate Professor Jon Iredell and his team are creating a portable diagnostic system that can identify the presence of bird flu in a human sample within two hours. In partnership with Corbett Research, they are using a gene detection system with the ability to test for fifty different genes simultaneously from the same human sample.
“People might have the flu, or they may have symptoms which mimic the flu, or they might have secondary infections that will end up killing them. The technology allows us to diagnose and accurately triage patients very quickly,” explained Professor Iredell.
A second team, led by Professor Tony Cunningham, will seek to understand and monitor the emergence of drug resistant strains of the virus during local spreading. “Viruses can mutate or change quickly. A major mutation in the genetic make-up of the virus may make it more infectious or harder to treat,” he said.
Pictured: Medical staff at Royal North Shore share a video link on the bird-flu virus with Hanoi and Tokyo experts.
By Kate Rossmanith
Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy
Phone: 02 9351 4312