Australia on board in global bird flu fight

Australia on board in global bird flu fight

Australia on board in global bird flu fight

Updated 1 February 2013, 10:45 AEDT

Australian researchers are taking part in a global project to help protect people against the deadly bird flu virus.

The H5N1 virus has infected only about 600 people world-wide, none of them in Australia, but it carries a mortality rate of three in five.

That has got the United States Government concerned and it is funding a global vaccine project being trialed in humans.

Newcastle's Hunter Clinical Research is one of the centres taking part and it's looking for volunteers to undergo human trials

They are hoping to find out the smallest dose of an H5N1 vaccine needed for human protection, to create global stockpiles in case of a world-wide pandemic.

The Newcastle study's principal investigator, Dr Marc Russo, says it is a global insurance policy.

"Even if the risk is low, if the outcome is potentially catastrophic, it is still worth insuring against a catastrophic risk," he said.

The vaccine doesn't actually carry the virus, so apart from a few possible aches and pains, there is no risk of getting the disease.

Dr Russo says while there is no imminent threat at the moment, it is an important trial.

"The insurance policy is that should there be a mutation in the virus, and the virus does undergo regular mutation.

"If it does mutate and we get human to human transmission, then we would be looking at millions of infections and potentially a very large number of deaths."

After a year of planning, the clinic is gearing up to receive patients from next week.

Researchers hope to have results in two years.