Scientists are on track to create a mobile machine that would identify strain of bird flu within hours, a development that would make it possible to set up exclusion zones before the deadly virus could spread. Currently it takes up to a week to identify different types of bird flu, including the potentially fatal H5N1 strain. A rapid test for flu viruses could save thousands of lives in the event of a pandemic by cutting the time taken to identify cases to just “two hours”. Scientists at Britain’s Nottingham Trent University say they are now developing a portable machine, the size of a briefcase, which can be used at the spot of a suspected outbreak or taken to a patient to detect the flu in two hours. The device is designed to pick up all types of flu – including the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. At the moment, the H5N1 strain, while highly infectious among poultry, is not easily passed to humans, and cannot be passed from human to human. However, scientists fear that a strain of bird flu, possibly H5N1, could eventually mutate and cross the “species barrier”. It could then gain the ability to pass easily from person to person and perhaps lead to a dangerous global pandemic, they fear. Alan McNally, who is working on the project, said that the device would allow fast, on-the-spot screening. “The key thing is that the process will be fully automated so there is no requirement for a skilled person,” he was quoted as saying by The Times online on Thursday. The researchers are helping to develop two machines – a briefcase-sized version for use out in the field, and one about the size of a desktop computer for international border points, hospitals and GPs’ surgeries. The device will work by scanning swabs containing saliva or a tissue sample from birds or animals, and screening them for viral traces of influenza, the report said.