Disaster is predicted if avian influenza spreads from poultry to other bird life The world is on the brink of a flu pandemic that not only threatens to kill millions of people worldwide, but also wreak havoc on the global ecosystem, a flu expert warned yesterday. 'I am very worried about the present situation we are in. We are on a knife-edge at the moment. If it goes the wrong way, we could have a very severe pandemic,' said Kennedy Shortridge, honorary professor of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong. 'If this virus gets into bird life beyond poultry, we could wreck the global ecosystem and we could be on the verge of an 'eco-cide', in other words, the destruction of the ecosystem,' Professor Shortridge told the Australian Universities International Alumni Convention yesterday. The World Health Organisation said last week that recent outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu had pushed the world closer to a pandemic that could kill up to seven million people and infect 30 per cent of the global population. Professor Shortridge, who is also an honorary professor at the University of Auckland, said he did not believe the bird flu virus was spread mainly by migratory birds. 'The situation is we have this bird flu around. It started in southern China. All of a sudden it appeared at the end of 2003, [or the] beginning of 2004,' he said. 'I think it is quite simple - day-to-day activities are spreading the virus throughout the region.' This was compounded by low standards of hygiene and farm bio-security, he added. Professor Shortridge said a deadly genotype of the H5N1 virus had become the predominant strain throughout the region since 2002. 'That is the killer virus. It is spreading throughout the region.' The professor said outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu began in Asia in 2002, but the cases were not reported. He called for improved transparency to help control the spread of the virus. 'What I think we should have is the political will on the part of governments. 'I think we have to have a new 'glasnost', a new responsibility, and new openness. We have got to have an influenza transparency,' he said. Professor Shortridge also expressed concern that the virus was now being detected extensively in ducks in three provinces in southern China. Guan Yi, assistant microbiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said that his own research had shown that ducks played a major role in spreading the bird flu virus. 'I personally think that the H5N1 virus is not transmitted by migrating birds, but by domestic ducks,' he said.