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WHO: Bird Flu Virus Spreading Faster

The bird flu virus appears to be older and more established than initially thought and is spreading faster than experts can get to it, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman said Wednesday.

"The speed with which the virus is spreading suggests that nowhere in the region (Asia) is safe," the Philippine Star daily on-line news quoted Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO Western Pacific Regional office, as saying.

"The virus is spreading faster than we can get to it," he added.

"We think the virus has been around a lot longer than initially thought. It's quite well embedded in some areas," Cordingley said, noting that bird flu might have emerged "as far back as the middle of last year."

While wild migratory birds may have spread the virus, Cordingley said there appears to be no date yet whether it could go beyond the region.

"We have no idea whether it could spread beyond Asia," Cordingley said but added "the chances of it showing up in Europe for example, are very slight."

The culling of birds, the ban on import of poultry from affected areas and improved hygiene measures all would help control the spread, he added.

About 10 Asian countries and region were affected by the bird flu virus, with the death toll from the disease rising to around 14 and tens of thousands of chickens were killed to keep the disease from spreading.

Experts fear that bird flu might combine with the human influenza virus to create a new strain that could be easily transmitted to humans to cause a rapid spreading.

(Xinhua News Agency February 4, 2004)

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