18 infected with new strain of Bird Flu

AT LEAST 18 have been infected with a new strain of bird flu virus in China - known as H7N9 - which has so far proved fatal in six cases, prompting the Chinese government to rush through approvals for a new treatment.

China's State Food and Drug Administration have given the go-ahead to a drug called Peramivir to treat the infection as more than 20,000 chickens and quails were culled in Shanghai.

Three other Chinese cities have banned live poultry altogether.

A form of Peramivir was used in 2009 to treat patients with "Swine Flu" or H1N1.

The World Health Organisation reported the virus was yet to spread from person to person.

If this happened, the WHO warned this strain of bird flu could lead to a pandemic.

University of Queensland deputy director of Bioengineering Professor Anton Middelberg said this latest outbreak reminded the world it was not yet able to create a vaccine cheap or quick enough to respond to the seriousness of these fledgling epidemics.

"The latest outbreak of H7N9 in China reminds us that we live in a region where disease regularly re-emerges," Prof Middelberg said.

"It is unlikely that vaccines will be produced quickly enough to impact this outbreak.The Swine Flu pandemic in 2009 was a lesson for Australia, he said, in how long it took for Australia to have released a vaccine.

"The H7N9 strain of influenza presents a particular challenge, as H7N9 is not included in the current annual (vaccines) that Australians receive.

"It is unlikely ... that Australia would be able to manufacture vaccines quickly enough to impact this situation, should it not be adequately controlled in China through hand washing."

Aside from just washing hands, the United Nations has instructed those in affected parts of China to keep animals away from living areas and not to eat sick animals.

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