- International experts fear that bird flu is mutating
into a strain that will cause a worldwide pandemic, killing many millions
of people after the mass deaths of wild birds in China.
- Unconfirmed reports say that more than 100 people have
also died, suggesting that the virus may have evolved to pass from person
to person, breaking the final barrier preventing a worldwide catastrophe.
- The Chinese government, while denying the reports of
human deaths, has adopted emergency measures in Xinjiang, its remote north-western
province, and has sealed off affected areas with roadblocks and closed
all nature reserves.
- "We are worried," says Noureddin Mona, of the
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's representatives in Beijing. "We
should be prepared for the worst."
- Shigeru Omi, of the World Health Organisation's regional
director for the western Pacific, says "the virus has become highly
pathogenic to more and more species".
- "It remains unstable, unpredictable, and very versatile.
- "Anything can happen. Judging from the way the virus
has behaved, it may have new and unpleasant surprises in store for us."
- Experts have long believed that the virus is spread by
wild birds, but until now they have been thought to be immune to its effects.
Last month, however, more than 1,000 were found to have died from the flu
at the Qinghai Lake Nature Reserve. A second outbreak, in Tacheng city
- on the border with Kazakhstan, 1,000 miles east of the lake - infected
more than 1,000 domestic geese, of which 460 died.
- A Chinese-language website called Boxun News and an internet
medical alert system called pro-MED report that 200 people have been infected,
of whom 121 died. The two sites first alerted the world to the Sars outbreak
in 2003 when the Chinese authorities denied it.
- China similarly denies that any people have been infected.
But the government admits to alerting its heath departments around the
province to prevent the spread of the disease and to opening special departments
in hospitals for "screening patients with fever".
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.