Give city residents bird flu jabs first, say researchers

(Sep. 12, 2006) City residents should be the first to receive treatments or vaccinations against major transmissible disease outbreaks, an infectious disease scientist from the University of NSW says.

The implication for this country is that city residents should receive bird flu vaccinations before their rural counterparts if an outbreak of the deadly disease were to hit Australia, David Wilson, who led the team the team conducting the research, told today.

The scientist, who specialises in HIV intervention strategies in Africa, said this would be the most effective way of containing the risk to the community.

"The capital cities of every state should come first because they act as the major hub of transmission," Dr Wilson said.

"If we can stop it while it's mainly in cities, hopefully that would prevent it reaching out to rural areas."

This would reduce the ethical dilemma that would arise if city residents were given priority over Australians living in the bush.

The research findings, published today in the US scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, were based on a study of the HIV-AIDS crisis in South Africa.

A quarter of that nation's AIDS-related deaths and infections could be averted within four years if the limited supply of anti-retroviral therapies was distributed inequitably, said the researcher, who is now based at the university's Centre for Vascular Research.

He conducted the AIDS research when he was working at the University of California Los Angeles, along with Professor Sally Blower and Dr Jim Kahn of the University of California San Francisco.

"The South African Government is facing a moral dilemma," Dr Wilson said.

"We have shown it is most efficient to distribute the drugs to the cities only, leaving rural areas even more disadvantaged."

The findings showed that 1400 lives would have been saved and 15,000 new infections prevented in just one province in South Africa by 2008 if the city-focused strategy had started in 2004.

Applying this methodology to Australia, concentrating the distribution of bird flu vaccines in cities would be "far more effective at containing the outbreak".

The deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza has devastated chicken and other poultry flocks in parts of Asia, hitting Thailand and Vietnam hardest.

The only human deaths so far have been people who have had close contact with sick birds, but there are fears the virus could mutate so it could spread from person to person. (from


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