:Two strains of a low-pathogenic avian flu virus were found in migratory birds droppings at the Guandu wetlands, a nature conservatory park near Taipei, the Council of Agriculture disclosed yesterday.
However, Huang Kwo-ching, director of the animal health inspection division gave the assurance that these two subtypes of avian influenza, H5N2 and H7N3 are not known to affect humans.
The COA said that the newly discovered strains pose no widespread risk and do not require massive culling of birds since there are no poultry farms within a radius of three kilometers of the site.
The Center for Disease Control has however posted warning signs around the wetlands asking visitors to the area and residents to take extra precautionary measures while bird watching, and to use binoculars so as not to get too close to the birds.
Bird watchers should avoid any contact with birds, stressed C.P. Cheng, deputy director of the animal quarantine division.
Huang noted that since September, the division has been strengthening its efforts at detecting the virus in migratory birds by increasing the number and the frequency of tests on samples of wild bird droppings.
"Our goal for this year was to collect 2,000 samples," said Huang. "However, up to this point, we have collected more than 3,700 samples and we plan to step up our frequency of collection until April when the migratory season comes to an ends," said Huang.
Unlike the deadly H5N1 virus, the H5N2 has a different genetic recombination and is dangerous only to birds.
Rare but possible
However, the H7N3 subtype can be classified as either high pathogenic or low pathogenic. H7 infection in humans is rare but can occur among persons who have direct contact with infected birds.
"Fortunately, the subtype of H7N3 found in the Guandu wetlands is the less virulent strain and does not pose any lethal threat to humans," said Huang.
The COA is asking the public to report any suspicious bird fatalities and is urging travelers to avoid going to countries with recorded cases of bird flu.
At the moment, Taiwan remains one of the few Southeast Asian countries with no reported cases of the avian flu virus. In October, the H5N1 virus was found in a shipment of birds smuggled from China, but all the birds were immediately culled upon discovery of the virus.
To date, the H5N1 avian influenza virus has killed 71 people in Asia since 2003 with Indonesia confirming another victim yesterday.