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Deadly flu virus mutating rapidly

Pandemic Alert
The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is mutating unpredictably and at a rapid pace, a senior WHO official has warned Asia Pacific health ministers.

APEC health ministers have wrapped their two-day Sydney meeting with a pledge to address the "very real" threat of a global pandemic of bird flu or human influenza.

The commitment came after a World Health Organisation (WHO) presentation urging vigilance in the face of unpredictable changes in the H5N1 virus, which poses the biggest current threat.

Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told ministers and senior delegates from the 21 nations the virus was rapidly evolving.

"The virus is already entrenched, embedded in this part of the world and ... it has been very, very unstable and changeable," Dr Omi said after the meeting.

"If we put (these two points) together it's a very clear indication that we have to remain vigilant."

The Indonesian strain has infected 309 people since 2003, killing 188, but Dr Omi warned that what was once two distinct grades had now spilt into four sub-groups.

"And I would not be surprised if we end up with more sub-classes in the years to come," he said.

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