Bird flu virus now endemic in three more countries ? WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that the bird flu virus continues to pose a threat to humans. The announcement came after reports of new cases of avian influenza or A(H5N1) were confirmed by health authorities in Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Since 2003, outbreaks have been reported in poultry flocks in 60 countries in Asia, Europe and North
Africa. The virus is now considered endemic in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The international health body said avian influenza poses a health risk to humans in two ways.

?First, it places those in direct contact with birds?usually rural folk and farm workers?at risk of catching the often-fatal disease. Second, the virus could undergo a process of ?reassortment? with another influenza virus and produce a completely new strain,? the WHO said in a statement.

Health experts do not count out the possibility that the bird flu virus may combine with the A(H1N1) virus, producing a deadlier and more contagious disease.

?We don?t know if this is possible, but we are certainly aware of the risk,? said Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

He explained that reassortment occurs when the genes of two or more types of influenza virus mix in a host animal?often a pig, duck or chicken?and form an entirely new strain of the virus that is new to humans.

In April, after the reassortment of avian, swine and human strains of influenza in pigs in Mexico, a novel influenza virus?the pandemic influenza A(H1N1) 2009 virus?emerged in humans.

This virus spread quickly around the world and has probably infected millions of people, killing thousands.

?Influenza viruses are unpredictable. In areas where A(H1N1) is endemic, we and our partners and national governments are working to build surveillance systems to identify changes in the behaviour of the virus. We are also focusing on early-response capacity to reduce the potential threats to human health,? Shin said.