The avian influenza virus could spread further into Asia, Europe and Africa as soon as springtime, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The FAO has warned that traders, travelling parties and migratory birds, particularly coming from Africa, could spread the H5N1 bird flu virus further into the continents.

FAO deputy director-general David Harcharik said: “Countries in Africa deserve special attention. In Turkey, the virus has already reached the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, and there is a real risk of further spread. If it were to become rooted in the African countryside, the consequences for a continent already devastated by hunger and poverty could be truly catastrophic.”

Harcharik was speaking yesterday (18 January) at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza in Beijing, China.

The FAO urged all countries along the routes of migratory birds to be highly vigilant and be prepared for a further spread of the disease in animals.

Harcharik said: “Fighting the avian influenza virus in animals is the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of H5N1 mutating or reassorting to cause a human flu pandemic. Containing bird flu in domestic animals – mostly chickens and ducks – will significantly reduce the risk to humans.”

“Governments will fail in combating avian influenza if they don’t give their veterinary services the political support as well as the technical and financial means to fight the virus.”