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Device speeds up bird flu detection

14 August 2008

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A machine that can detect an outbreak of bird flu in just two hours is being developed by British University academics as part of a £2.3m project.

Using current methods, it takes up to a week to identify different types of bird flu – including the potentially fatal H5N1 strain.

But scientists at Nottingham Trent University say they are now helping to develop a portable machine the size of a briefcase which can be used at the scene of a suspected outbreak.

The technology works by recognising molecules from a swab of human saliva or animal tissue, before identifying if it is infected with bird flu and if so which strain is present.

The university says the technology will mean officials can set up exclusion zones and cull infected birds far quicker.

Dr Alan McNally, a former avian flu researcher for the government who is working on the Portfastflu project, said: “The key thing about this is that the process will be fully automated so there is no requirement for a skilled person to use the technology.

“There’s nothing to say that a veterinary lab assistant couldn’t go out and swab birds and run the test. At present tests have to be sent to a lab where you need fully trained personnel and that’s where the hold-up occurs.”

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