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No part of Asia safe from bird flu: WHO
Updated: 2004-02-04 13:44

No part of Asia should consider itself safe from the bird flu virus, which appears to be older and more established than initially thought, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman said.

Experts do not know if the virus could spread outside of Asia but believe that the chances of it reaching Europe were slim, said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO's Manila-based Western Pacific office.

"The speed with which the virus is spreading suggests that nowhere in the region is safe," Cordingley said.

"The virus is spreading faster than we can get to it," he said.

"We think the virus has been around a lot longer than initially thought. It's quite well embedded in some areas," he said, remarking that bird flu might have emerged "as far back as the middle of last year."

But while wild migratory birds may have spread the virus, Cordingley said there appears to be no data yet whether it could go beyond the region.

"We have no idea whether it could spread beyond Asia," Cordingley said but added "the chances of it showing up in Europe for example, are very slight."

The culling of birds, the ban on import of poultry from affected areas and improved hygiene measures all would help control the spread, he said.

The death toll from the disease has now risen to 15 and tens of thousands of chickens have been killed to keep the disease from spreading.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has emerged in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos and South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, while China's Taiwan and Pakistan have reported weaker strains.

Until now the disease is believed to have been passed on to humans by direct contact with sick birds or their droppings but experts fear that bird flu might combine with the human influenza virus to create a new strain that could be easily transmitted to humans, killing millions across the globe.

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