A far wider range of wildlife species could be at risk from bird flu, warnsa biologist from the University of East Anglia.
Dr Diana Bell, of UEA's School of Biological Sciences, says the discoverythat avian flu was responsible for the death of three rare civet cats in CucPhuong National Park in Vietnam, raises important questions about the rangeof wildlife species which could now be at risk from this virus.
"Vietnam and the other Asian countries chronically infected with avian fluare biodiversity hotspots rich in species, many only occuring in thisregion," says Dr Bell, whose team has been working with the Vietnamesegovernment, the World Health Organisation and the University of Hong Kong toconfirm the cause of death in the endangered Owston's palm civets.
"The focus so far has been on poultry and human health, and there has beenno screening of mammals in that region. The discovery of avian flu in a newfamily of mammals highlights the possibility that the virus may be capableof infecting other mammal species."
The flu virus is already known to be capable of infecting a number of birdspecies but this raises important questions about the susceptibility ofmammals.
Scott Roberton is technical advisor to the Owston Civet Programme in CucPhuong National Park and a member of the UEA research team working incollaboration with UHK, WHO and the Vietnamese government. He says thesource of the infection has not been identified.
A total of 57 deaths and 112 confirmed cases in humans have been reported tothe WHO, leading to fears of an influenza pandemic. Some 80 per cent ofthese cases have been reported in Vietnam.
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