BEIJING, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists recently reported that they found H5N1 bird flu virus in sparrows two years ago, the first time the virus has been detected in the common, non-migratory bird on the Chinese mainland.
Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China's Hubei Province tested excrement samples from 38 sparrows after an outbreak of bird flu in a county in Henan Province in 2004. Some of samples tested positive of H5N1 virus, said Li Tianxian, a researcher with the institute.
"There's no need for the public to panic. The findings are two years old and there is no indication that sparrows pose a risk," Li told Xinhua, adding that scientists found the bird flu virus in sparrows in the region of Hong Kong in 2002 and also in Turkey and South Africa.
Working with the Beijing Institute of Zoology, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the scientists isolated four H5N1 strains among the 25 positive excrement samples.
Li said tests on the four strains have shown they are a new genotype of H5N1, adding that researchers did not find dead sparrows.
It was thought that bird flu was mainly transmitted by migratory water fowl, but this finding proves that non-migratory birds are also a potential channel for bird flu transmission, she told the Chutian Metropolitan News published in Hubei Province.
The finding was published in December of last year in the U.S-based Journal of Virology, according to the newspaper.
Recent outbreaks of bird flu have again put the nation on alert for the potentially deadly disease.
In late September and early October, China reported two new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry, which killed at least 2,000 domestic fowl in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The quarantine imposed on Jiuyuan District of Baotou city of Inner Mongolia where the outbreak occurred was lifted on Wednesday.
Yin Chengjie, Vice-Minister of Agriculture, has warned that autumn and winter were critical periods, urging officials to be aware of the dangers of bird flu and not underestimate the difficulty of controlling it.
Zeng Guang, an expert with China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned of the possibility of a major bird flu outbreak in China this winter or next spring, saying that suchan outbreak would probably take place as common flu cases reach their peak.
It remains difficult to determine how the H5N1 virus will develop, Zeng was quoted by the China Daily as saying, but noted there was a possibility it may form a hybrid with other flu viruses.
The Health Ministry last month required doctors and grass-roots health organizations to report infectious diseases within two hours of detection, including any outbreak of SARS, poliomyelitis and bird flu. Beijing has reinstated daily reporting of bird flu monitoring results as well.
The health ministry has also required all medical institutes to give intensive training by the end of November to medical professionals on the awareness of laws and regulations and prevention and control measures of infectious disease including bird flu, SARS, and pneumonia of unknown causes.
The Chinese government has prepared 23 million to 25 million doses of flu vaccine this year, 20 percent more than last year.
China has reported 21 human infections of bird flu since 2003, that have caused 14 deaths. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 256 human infections including 151deaths as of Oct. 16.
So far, all human cases of bird flu were transmitted by sick or dead birds. WHO reports there is still no evidence to suggest human-to-human transmission of the disease has occurred.