Sparrows found to carry flu virus

Updated: 2006-10-27 08:44

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.

The 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 for the 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 of Hubei.

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

Recent outbreaks of bird flu have again put the nation on alert for the potentially deadly disease.

In late September and early October, China reported two new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry, which killed at least 2,000 domestic fowl in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

The quarantine imposed on Jiuyuan District of Baotou City of Inner Mongolia where the outbreak occurred was lifted on Wednesday.

Yin Chengjie, vice minister of agriculture, has warned that autumn and winter were critical periods, urging officials to be aware of the dangers of bird flu and not underestimate the difficulty of controlling it.

Zeng Guang, an expert with China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has also warned of the possibility of a major bird flu outbreak in China this winter or next spring, saying that such an outbreak would probably take place as common flu cases reach their peak.

The Chinese government has prepared 23 million to 25 million doses of flu vaccine this year, 20 percent more than last year.

China has reported 21 human infections of bird flu since 2003, which have caused 14 deaths.