Australian research brings bird flu vaccine closer

Vietnam has the world's second highest bird flu death toll after Indonesia. [AFP]
Vietnam has the world's second highest bird flu death toll after Indonesia. [AFP]

Australian researchers say they are closer to developing a human vaccine for bird flu.

A team from the University of Melbourne, in south-eastern Australia, has discovered that naturally occurring T-cells are able to find and destroy cells infected by viruses.

The researchers report that scientists should concentrate on modifying vaccines to boost T-cell levels in order to effectively fight flu strains.

T-cells in humans belong to a group of white blood cells that play a central role in immunity processes carried out by cells.

Associate Professor Stephen Turner says a compound known to increase immunity could be added to existing flu vaccines in Australia.

He says there has been a 50 per cent death rate among people infected with the disease overseas.

"A particular concern is the fact that there's ongoing outbreaks of this pathogenic bird flu in Indonesia," he said.

"With continued human infections from this bird flu, we're just waiting to kind of see whether or not the virus will ever gain the capacity to transmit from human to human."

Since 2003, the H5N1 avian influenza virus has infected 408 people in 15 countries and killed 254.

It has killed or forced the culling of more than 300 million birds as it spread to 61 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Vietnam, Indonesia hit

Several cases of deaths from avian influenza have been reported in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Last month there was another death from bird flu in Vietnam, the second this year.

Vietnam has the world's second highest bird flu death toll after Indonesia, with 54 deaths.

According to the latest Vietnamese Animal Health Department report, 11 of 63 provinces in Vietnam have been hit with the H5N1 strain.

Last December, thousands of chickens and ducks were being culled in eastern India in an effort to contain a bird flu outbreak.

Hundreds of thousands of domestic birds were also destroyed in north-eastern Assam state and neighbouring Meghalaya.

There have been no confirmed human cases of H5N1 in India.