Wednesday, July 26, 2006


New Zealand and Australia are impressing the World Health Organisation in their preperations to deal with a bird flu pandemic, while the United States and countries across the EU are having immense problems co-ordinating their plans.

From New Zealand :

A top pandemic response planner has confirmed officials are negotiating with hotels and motels in the seven cities with international airports over their use as quarantine stations.

John Ladd, operations coordinator for the inter-agency Border Working Group, said hotels were the most appropriate places to hold international visitors who had travelled through at-risk areas but did not show outward signs of flu.

The length of quarantine would depend on the severity of the pandemic, said Mark Jacobs, director of public health, but was typically two incubation periods. An incubation period is the time between someone getting infected and becoming sick.

Mr Ladd said if the seasonal flu was a guide, the incubation period was likely to be up to 48 hours. He would not reveal which hotels were being considered.

Planners originally considered the Ohakea Air Force base the most suitable quarantine station, but that was rejected as it "just didn't make sense".

"Ohakea is not a particularly salubrious place. There are a lot of human rights issues to take into account, people have to be able to get hold of their loved ones and so on."

Health workers would examine passengers at the airport before moving them to the appropriate place.

In busy airports, such as Auckland, care would have to be taken not to let passengers from different aircraft mix.

However, Mr Ladd said he did not expect a flood of travellers to New Zealand in a pandemic. The Sars virus outbreak saw just a handful of people travel to New Zealand on some flights from Asia.

Legislation before Parliament allows for automatic visa extensions for travellers already in New Zealand to restrict the need for face-to-face contact.

Various places have previously been mooted as quarantine stations for the general population, including islands, schools and prison facilities.

Worst-case scenarios show if the bird flu virus H5N1 sparked a pandemic, 1.6 million people would become ill in New Zealand, with 1.3 million sick at its peak. About 33,000 of those were likely to die.

That death toll of 33,000 seems low when considering that bird flu has a mortality rate higher than 50% for those infected in Indonesia and Vietnam, the two hotspots for bird flu deaths so far.

These New Zealand projected death figures may be this low because the introduction of antivirals in the earliest stages of infection are expected, or predicted, to greatly reduce the number of people who developed full blown avian influenza.

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