Australia to simulate bird flu outbreak this week

Australia will stage its first major test this week of its preparedness for a bird flu outbreak, the government announced Sunday.

The four-day Exercise Eleusis starting Tuesday will involve 1,000 people from the federal and state governments, agriculture and health departments as well as the agriculture industry, Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran and Health Minister Tony Abbott said in a joint statement.

Australia has yet to detect a case of the lethal H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus that has killed at least 68 people and ravaged poultry populations in Asia since 2003. Almost all human fatalities have been linked to contact with sick poultry.

The federal government is coordinating preparations for an outbreak among Australian birds as well for a potential pandemic if the virus mutates into a form that spreads easily among humans.

McGauran said the drill would employ a hypothetical scenario to test how well agriculture and health departments work with industry to identify, contain and eradicate an outbreak among birds.

Abbott said the exercise scenario included human victims of the disease. Abbott said the federal government had committed more than 300 million Australian dollars (US$220 million; Ђ188 million) to pandemic preparedness, including A$170 million (US$125 million; Ђ107 million) on the Australian health response and A$140 million (US$103 million; Ђ88 million) to help regional neighbors.

Health officials in Indonesia, one of Australia's nearest neighbors, confirmed Saturday that a 16-year-old boy had tested positive for H5N1, bringing to 12 the number of cases reported in that sprawling nation. Seven have been fatal.

H5N1 has been found in 23 of Indonesia's 30 provinces, AP reports.

A. A.

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