BEJING, China, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The deadly bird-flu virus could pervade Africa and Europe by spring, world health officials warned Wednesday.
The bug could shortly take hold in new regions including the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions if the movement of people and animals in these areas is not strictly controlled, said officials at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
FAO officials also stressed that migratory birds coming in from Africa are another possible mode of transport for the lethal virus that experts worry could balloon into a global pandemic if the virus learns how to spread from human to human.
Recent outbreaks of the disease in Turkey are particularly troubling because its geographic location makes it a gateway to other world regions, the officials noted.
"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," said FAO Deputy Director General David Harcharik in his opening speech at the International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza in Beijing.
FAO officials also advised all countries along the routes of migratory birds to be highly vigilant and be prepared for a further spread of the disease in animals.
"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," Harcharik said. "Containing bird flu in domestic animals -- mostly chickens and ducks -- will significantly reduce the risk to humans. Avian influenza should not only be considered as a human health issue, but as a human and animal health issue," he said.