Feb 22, 2008</td> <td class="padlrt8 blue verdana10" align="right" valign="center"> </td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2" class="padlrt8"> <!-- headline one : start --> Thailand detects minor mutation in bird flu virus <!-- headline one : end -->
</td> </tr> <tr> <td colspan="2" class="georgia11 padcell8"> <!-- more than 7 paragraphs --> <!-- story content : start --> BANGKOK - OUTBREAKS of bird flu in Thailand last month were caused by a strain of the virus that had slightly mutated from earlier cases but did not pose a greater health risk, officials said on Friday. The deadly H5N1 virus was detected among chickens last month in the provinces of Pichit and Nakorn Sawan.
After studies, scientists found that the virus had undergone minute changes but appeared to pose no greater threat to humans than earlier cases of bird flu, said Sakchai Sriboonsue, director general of the livestock department.
'According to our research team, the virus's genes have gradually changed from those of the H5N1 strain found in previous outbreaks. But there is little change in the harm it can cause to animals or humans,' Sakchai told a press conference.
Scientists have long feared the the H5N1 virus could mutate to a form that passes easily among humans, causing a global flu pandemic.
Yong Poovorawan, chief of the department's research team, said the existing strain remained a threat and urged people to closely follow the government's prevention guidelines.
<!-- show media links starting at 7th para --> He noted that the disease's mortality rate in humans is about 70 per cent.
H5N1 has killed more than 200 people and ravaged poultry flocks worldwide since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.
Thailand, the world's fourth-largest exporter of poultry, was criticized for being slow to respond to the first outbreak of bird flu, but now is considered one of the countries best prepared to battle the disease. -- AFP