Bird flu diagnosis 'very unlikely': NSW Health

(September 27, 2006) NSW Health says it is extremely unlikely a man rushed to hospital from an international flight at Sydney Airport this morning has bird flu.

The man aged in his 30s was isolated by quarantine officers at Sydney Airport after falling ill on a Vietnam Airways flight from Hanoi via Ho Chi Minh City with flu-like symptoms.

The man whose nationality is unknown has been taken to St George Hospital for bird flu testing.

NSW Health Communicable Diseases director Jeremy McAnulty said the man had been quarantined as a precaution but initial tests showed it was unlikely he was suffering from bird flu.

"It turns out that that is a very unlikely diagnosis.'' Dr McAnulty said.

"But the person's still being assessed in hospital.

"Our concern is whether a person has a quarantinable disease or avian influenza and at this stage it seems very unlikely that that's the case.''

The man's recent history of being in an area with chickens in Vietnam and having a previous influenza like illness had sparked concern, Dr McAnulty said.

Mildly unwell when he boarded the plane, the man but had become "difficult to rouse" when the flight touched down in Sydney, Dr McAnulty said.

Quarantine officers wearing protective clothing had boarded the aircraft, isolated the man and escorted him to a waiting ambulance.

He was being assessed by experts but bird flu was "way down the bottom" of the list of possible diagnoses, Dr McAnulty said.

He said the chances of the man's travelling companion or other passengers on the flight being infected were the illness bird flu was extremely low.

"At this stage we think that the likelihood that he'd be infectious to other people is extremely low," he said.

"However, if that changes, then we have mechanisms in place to follow up other passengers, but at this stage we don't believe (there is) any risk."

As a routine precaution, the details of the man's immediate neighbours had been taken and if the risk assessment changed these would be followed up.

Despite the relatively low risk of human transmission, authorities took the threat of bird flu very seriously, Dr McAnulty said.

"It's very rare for people to get infected from avian influenza, even if they have close contact with chickens or other birds that are infected with it," he said.

"But rarely it does occur and if people do get infected with avian influenza they could get seriously unwell, so on balance we take it very seriously."

If the man was diagnosed with bird flu he would be placed on anti-influenza drugs and a communicable disease response activated, Dr McAnulty said.

"From a public health point of view, the risk of person-to-person transmission is extraordinarily low, there's only really been one or two of those possibilities around the world in the past," he said.

"However, as a precaution, we'd be contacting (those who had) close contact."

A full diagnosis was expected later this afternoon. (


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