The World Heath Organisation's director general has warned the public to expect an increasing trend of animal diseases jumping to humans.
Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun's advice came after the emergence this year of a new Sars-related virus suspected to have come from animals. She said there was little evidence that it could pass from human to human.
An investigation was trying to trace the source of the new virus in the Middle East, and she said she was pleased the outbreak had been brought under control.
But she also noted that 70 per cent of infectious diseases over the past three decades had come from animals. "Animal diseases don't usually affect humans," said Chan, at a luncheon in Hong Kong. "When it starts jumping to humans, there must be a reason."
She suggested there were contributing factors leading to animal sickness, including the hygiene standards of environments where poultry was raised.
"Asian people, for cultural reason, live close to chickens and pigs ... and some Asians like exotic meat ... We should take lessons … after SARS and bird flu."
Over the past three decades, more than one new disease related to animals has been identified by the WHO each year.
"It is not easy to change the culture, but the United Nations has a duty to help countries better support [people] and be prepared for the risk," Chan said.
She praised Hong Kong's intense surveillance system for infectious disease, and for its experience in combating such risks. She also expressed confidence that the city was capable of containing an outbreak.
Speaking of her trip, Chan said the main purpose for her coming to Hong Kong was to visit family and friends.