A senior Chinese health official disclosed on Friday that her country had found a lethal strain of avian influenza among pigs at several farms, a discovery that could move the virus one step closer toward becoming a global problem for humans.
Chen Hualan, the chief of the China National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory, made the disclosure at a World Health Organization conference in Beijing and confirmed it in a brief telephone interview, but declined to provide details.
The A(H5N1) strain of avian influenza, or bird flu, has infected chickens in at least eight countries early this year, and killed 23 of the 34 people in Thailand and Vietnam who caught the disease directly from poultry. But the virus did not appear to have evolved to a form that could pass readily from person to person, writes The New York Times.
The discovery of a deadly bird flu strain in Malaysia after cases elsewhere in Southeast Asia signaled a major winter outbreak was likely, international health experts said on Friday.
Since a strain deadly to humans emerged in Asia early this year, scientists have voiced fears the flu could mutate, become able to jump to humans, and spread.
Adding to concern was an announcement by a Chinese scientist on Friday that pigs in China had been found infected with bird flu, but the World Health Organization said that did not come as a complete surprise.
A strain of bird flu blamed for 27 deaths in Asia this year has been found in Malaysia this week and hundreds of birds have been gassed this week and their carcasses burned to contain the outbreak, told Reuters.
World Health Organization officials, however, say not enough information is available to prompt worry that humans may soon be easily infected.
Roy Wadia with the WHO office in Beijing says, while pigs can serve as sort of mixing vessels, in which viruses can become passable to humans, there is no indication that all of the elements for this to happen with H5N1 are present, informed The Voice of America.