BEIJING - A new strain of bird flu that emerged in China over the past month is one of the "most lethal" flu viruses so far, worrying health officials because it can jump more easily from birds to humans than the one that started killing people a decade ago, World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.
Scientists are watching the virus closely to see if it could spark a global pandemic but say there is little evidence so far that it can spread easily from human to human.
WHO's top influenza expert, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, told reporters at a briefing in Beijing that people seem to catch the H7N9 virus from birds more easily than the H5N1 strain that began ravaging poultry across Asia in 2003. The H5N1 strain has since killed 360 people worldwide.
Health experts are concerned about H7N9's ability to jump to humans, and about the strain's capacity to infect birds without causing noticeable symptoms, which makes it difficult to monitor its spread.
"This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far," Fukuda said.
The H7N9 bird flu virus has infected more than 100 people in China; more than 20 people have died.