Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Flu pandemic could destroy ecosystem, convention hears

AP , HONG KONG

A medical expert has warned that the next flu pandemic could wreck the global ecosystem, in addition to killing millions of people worldwide, a newspaper reported yesterday.

The World Health Organization warned last week that bird flu is the mostly likely candidate to combine with a human virus, creating a new strain that could trigger a worldwide pandemic and kill as many as 7 million people.

Microbiologist Kennedy Shortridge told a convention in Hong Kong on Friday that he feared such a pandemic could destroy the global ecosystem in addition to causing human deaths, the South China Morning Post reported.

"I am very worried about the present situation we are in. We are on a knife-edge at the moment. If it goes the wrong way, we could have a very severe pandemic," Shortridge, an honorary professor at both the University of Hong Kong and the University of Auckland in Australia, was quoted as saying.

"If this virus gets into bird life beyond poultry, we could wreck the global ecosystem and we could be on the verge of an `ecocide'", Shortridge, who helped Hong Kong fight a 1997 bird flu outbreak that crossed over to humans and killed six people, said without further elaboration.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong and mainland researchers said they have developed a new and quicker diagnostic test for the bird flu virus, which could detect whether someone is infected by the virus within two hours, another newspaper reported.

The new diagnostic test for the H5N1 bird-flu virus has a 90 percent accuracy rate and is much quicker in yielding results than current tests, which take three to five days, the Apple Daily quoted University of Hong Kong microbiologist Guan Yi as saying.

Guan declined to confirm the report on Saturday, saying an announcement would be made later this week.

Bird flu this year has killed 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam, and millions of chickens across Asia. However, there has been no concrete evidence yet of human-to-human transmission of the disease.

Shortridge said low hygiene standards have helped the virus to spread throughout the region.

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