Australia boost preparedness for Avian Influenza

Australia's preparedness for a potential Avian Influenza pandemic will be boosted by four new projects at The Australian National University (ANU), funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Researchers at the ANU College of Medicine and Health Sciences have received $110,000 for a project to strengthen the contribution of general practitioners to the control of pandemic influenza, $183,040 for a project that will examine the most effective ways to control an influenza pandemic, including strategies for effective use of limited antivirals, and $239,570 for research into inactivated flu vaccines.

Researchers at the ANU College of Science have received $237,807 to search for agents that prevent or disrupt the release of proteins, known as a cytokine storm, which causes death in flu victims.

Professor Ian Clarke from the ANU Research School of Chemistry will lead a team screening for agents that are active against late-stage inflammatory cytokines in influenza.

When the body is infected with a virulent flu virus that it hasn't encountered before, especially avian flu, the immune system goes into overdrive and creates what is know as a cytokine storm, which leads to death. Professor Clark will screen for agents that can prevent or halt a cytokine storm, with and without Tamiflu.

Leader of the study into how GP's could contribute to controlling an influenza pandemic, Professor Marjan Klajkovic from the ANU Medical School said GPs had an important role to play during a pandemic.

"This study will develop a range of action plans for use by general practitioners and public health authorities to support essential primary health care functions through a pandemic, and maximize general practice's contribution to control efforts," he said.

Project collaborator, Dr Christine Phillips, said: "We need to find ways for basic primary health care services to be maintained through a pandemic, a time when people may not be able to come to doctors' surgeries, and health care worker numbers themselves may be decreased."

In the second project, biostatistician Professor Niels Becker from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health will look at the most effective ways to control a pandemic influenza and the most effective data assessment strategies in the event of a pandemic.

"We're aiming to help prepare for a pandemic of influenza by comparing as realistically as possible how effective the various available control strategies are at reducing transmission of the disease. The study will take due account of the ability and resources available and the need to maintain essential services."

Professor Becker's study will compare control strategies, such as reducing the number of close contacts we make with others, isolating cases after they are diagnosed, closing schools, quarantining households, quarantining individuals who are known to have been exposed to the virus, and using antiviral drugs to treat and protect people at risk of being infected. The study will also look at the most effective ways of using limited stocks of antiviral drugs and control strategies in the event of a strain developing that is drug resistant.

Dr Arno Mullbacher of the John Curtin School of Medical Research will lead a study into the potential use of gamma-ray inactivated influenza vaccine.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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