MANILA -- The Department of Health on Thursday said the public has no reason to panic amid reports of a new bird flu virus in China.
Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, program manager of the Institute for Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases, said the new strain of bird flu called "H7N9" has yet to affect other countries outside China where infection from the virus was first reported.
Lee Suy added there is no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission.
"Ang imbestigasyon po ay patuloy na ginagawa sa China para malaman ang extent ng problema, pero wala pa po kasing dokumento na kaso na nakakahawa ito sa tao - meaning na nata-transmit sa tao," Lee Suy told radio dzMM.
The number of H7N9 cases has increased in China. Six more people from different cities tested positive for the new strain of the virus, bringing the total number of cases to nine.
Three people have already died because of the virus. The latest fatality was a 38-year-old man from Zhejiang province who worked as a chef, media website Zhejiang Online said. The province's other case was a 67-year-old retiree who was being treated in hospital.
The World Health Organization has also played down fears over the new outbreak of bird flu, but said it was crucial to find out how the virus was spreading.
One expert warned of the risk of a pandemic if the source of infection is not identified, saying H7N9 had likely crossed over from poultry.
"If one can identify that, then you have possible interventions to reduce human exposure and ideally to stamp out the virus," said Malik Peiris, Chair Professor of the Virology School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.
"If we don't do that and do it quickly, we probably will lose the opportunity to eradicate this virus," he told AFP in an interview.
"If we don't eradicate it pretty quickly, this virus will become endemic and spread across China and beyond China," he added.
China is considered one of the countries at greater risk from bird flu because it is one of the world's biggest poultry producers and many chickens in rural areas are kept close to humans.
The more common strain of avian flu, H5N1, has killed more than 360 people globally from 2003 until March 12 this year, according to the WHO. – with Agence France-Presse; ANC