Sparrows in China carry bird flu virus

Updated: 2006-10-26 18:45

Chinese scientists recently reported that they found H5N1 bird flu virus in sparrows two years ago, the first time the virus has been detected in the common, non-migratory bird on the Chinese mainland.

Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China's Hubei Province tested excrement samples from 38 sparrows after an outbreak of bird flu in a county in Henan Province in 2004. Some of samples tested positive of H5N1 virus, said Li Tianxian, a researcher with the institute.

"There's no need for the public to panic. The findings are two years old and there is no indication that sparrows pose a risk," said Li, adding that scientists found the bird flu virus in sparrows in the region of Hong Kong in 2002 and also in Turkey and South Africa.

Working with the Beijing Institute of Zoology, both under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the scientists isolated four H5N1 strains among the 25 positive excrement samples.

Li said tests on the four strains have shown they are a new genotype of H5N1, adding that researchers did not find dead sparrows.

It was thought that bird flu was mainly transmitted by migratory water fowl, but this finding proves that non-migratory birds are also a potential channel for bird flu transmission, Li told the Chutian Metropolitan News published in Hubei Province.

The finding was published in December of last year in the U.S-based Journal of Virology, according to the newspaper.