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new bird flu strain detected

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    New bird flu strain detectedBy Tan Ee Lyn

    October 31, 2006 07:36am

    SCIENTISTS in Hong Kong and the US have detected a new strain of H5N1 bird flu virus in China and warned it might have started another wave of outbreaks in poultry in South-East Asia and move deeper into Eurasia.

    The strain, called the "Fujian-like virus" because it was first isolated in China's southern Fujian province in March 2005, has increasingly been detected since October 2005 in poultry in six provinces in China, displacing other H5N1 strains.

    The strain might also have become resistant to vaccines, which China began using on a large scale from September 2005 to protect poultry from H5N1, said the scientists.

    The researchers are from the University of Hong Kong, including virologists Guan Yi and Malik Peiris, and Rob Webster of St Jude Children's Research Hospital in the United States.

    "The predominance of this Fujian-like virus appears to be responsible for the increased prevalence of H5N1 in poultry since October 2005 and recent human infection cases in China," they said in an article published in the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "It has already caused poultry outbreaks in Laos, Malaysia and Thailand, and human disease in Thailand. It is likely that this variant has already initiated a third wave of transmission throughout South-East Asia and may spread further in Eurasia."

    The first wave of H5N1 outbreaks occurred in late 2003 and 2004 in many parts of Asia. The second wave started in China's Qinghai Lake in May 2005 and that strain has since been found in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

    The virus has killed more than 150 people since late 2003 and remains largely a disease among birds. But experts fear it could trigger a flu pandemic and kill millions of people if it mutates into a strain that can pass from human to human.

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