Australians on alert as swine flu spreads

Leading Griffith University researcher, Mark von Itzstein, has urged people to remain calm in response to news the deadly swine flu is already on Australia’s doorstep.

The new influenza strain, feared to have killed 81 people in Mexico and infected 10 in the US, has “pandemic potential”, the World Health Organisation warned on Sunday.

Ten New Zealand students just returned from Mexico have tested positive for influenza A and are believed “likely” to have contracted swine flu, placing it close to Australian shores.

Three teachers and 22 senior students from Auckland’s Rangitoto College were kept in isolation after they returned from Mexico on Saturday after a three-week language trip with flu-like symptoms.

Professor von Itzstein said the latest virus had come out of left field and was spreading more quickly than the avian strain.

It’s now a virus that has infected and killed a significant number of people, so it’s aggressive, that’s quite clear,” Professor von Itzstein said.

“Like bird flu we have to be cautious, but not overreact.

“But the fact is this virus looks as though it has developed to be able to infect humans rapidly.”

Professor von Itzstein said swine flu could be easily spread through travel.

“There’s no doubt about that. People flying from Mexico to Australia could deliver the virus right to our shores and individuals may not know that they have the infection, that’s why it’s a concern,” he said.

“But the authorities have systems in place.”

Professor Mark von Itzstein’s laboratory discovered the first anti-influenza drug in the world–Relenza.

Relenza is stockpiled throughout the world to defend against influenza outbreaks, and more importantly, it also is effective in treating the swine flu.