By Paul Hemsley
The Queensland government has developed Australia’s first test to detect the new avian influenza H7N9 in humans in an effort to prepare for a potential pandemic of the recently discovered mutation of the virus.
Influenza is a virus that frequently mutates and its variations in the avian variety have proven no different since the initial spread of the H5N1 subtype across Asia in 2003, which quickly led to a pandemic across the Middle East and Europe in 2005. It is a virus that is contagious to humans through contact with infected birds, but it is more difficult to spread from human-to-human.
The previous form of Bird Flu has since mutated into another form, with the discovery of the H7N9 subtype in February and March 2013 in Eastern China when. Consequences of the H7N9 infection include pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and even death according to reports to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that were cited in the New England Journal of Medicine (Mass.).
Persistent mutations have historically kept scientists around the world busy by constantly having to develop different vaccines just to keep pace with the continual changes in the virus sub types and strains.
The Queensland government has taken up the challenge of trying to prevent the potential spread to Australia of H7N9 even though the virus has so-far only been detected in Eastern China and Taiwan.
According to Queensland Health, scientists working for Pathology Queensland’s Microbiology Department and the Queensland Paediatric Infectious Disease Laboratory created the latest test for H7N9 to detect the latest strain of the avian flu.
The test involves taking a swab from the throats of people suspected of having influenza. The technical description of this procedure is a nasopharyngeal swab or nasopharyngeal aspirates.
These swabs are then sent to Pathology Queensland Central Laboratory at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) campus where the H7N9 strain can be immediately recognised at a genetic level by the scientists involved.
Queensland Minister for Health, Lawrence Springborg said his government believes there is no similar screening test incorporating the identification of the H7N9 strain in Australia.
“The fact this test has been developed right here in Queensland is a testament to the quality work of our microbiologists and lab technicians, and I applaud their initiative in helping to protect our communities,” Mr Springborg said.
Pathology Queensland director of microbiology, Professor Graeme Nimmo said the test was essential in helping Australia keep the virus at bay.
“It allows cases to be detected very rapidly, enabling treatment to commence in as short a possible time, limiting the spread of the disease and the impact on the community,” Professor Nimmo said.
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