China warned yesterday that more cases of bird flu could emerge after the unexpected return of the virus, as researchers painted the alarming prospect of "a long-term pandemic threat."
Following the surprise announcement of an outbreak, the possibility of discovering cases in other places does exist, the state-run China Daily newspaper said, citing Zhang Zhongqiu, an agriculture ministry official.
The main cause for concern is that the recent outbreak in east China's Anhui Province was most likely triggered by migratory birds, which may also have brought the virus to other parts of the country, according to the paper.
Officials were taking no chances after the deadly H5N1 avian-flu virus was uncovered at a chicken farm near Chaohu City in Anhui Province.
A massive cull was underway, with all poultry being killed within a 3km radius of the affected chicken farm, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Within a 10km radius, all foul trade was suspended, while entry into the affected area was blocked.
One hundred workers were dispatched and equipped with 2,000kg of disinfectant to brace large poultry farms in the region for the possible attack of the virus, Xinhua reported.
As bird flu returned -- not only in China, but also Thailand and Vietnam where confirmed or suspected cases have been reported -- Chinese researchers warned there was only a slender chance of stamping it out.
In a study published yesterday in the science journal Nature, the researchers said the agent was firmly established in duck and chicken flocks in China and other countries.
"H5N1 virus is now endemic in poultry in Asia and has gained an entrenched ecological niche from which to present a long-term pandemic threat to humans," the scientists warned.
At the moment, the virus can be transmitted from birds to humans, sometimes with fatal consequences, but not from humans to humans.
But the proximity of farm fowl to humans, and also to pigs, which can harbor both avian and human viruses and act as a vessel to mix them, poses a special threat, the experts said.
The study was led by Guan Yi of the University of Hong Kong and Shantou University Medical School.
China was among 10 Asian nations affected by winter avian-flu outbreaks, which led to the deaths of at least 24 people in Vietnam and Thailand. Millions of chickens and ducks were culled to halt the disease.
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