BEIJING, Oct 26 (Reuters) Chinese scientists said they had found the H5N1 bird flu virus in sparrows two years ago, the first time it has been detected in non-migratory birds in China, Xinhua news agency reported today.
Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the central province of Hubei, found the virus in sparrows' excrement following an outbreak of bird flu in a county in neighbouring Henan province.
''There's no need for the public to panic. The findings are two years old and there is no indication that sparrows pose a risk,'' Xinhua quoted Li Tianxian, a researcher at the institute, as saying.
Chinese officials have in the past blamed outbreaks of bird flu in the country on migratory birds, but the findings indicate that the virus could also be among local birds common in urban areas.
With the world's largest poultry population, China is seen as a centre in the fight against bird flu, which scientists fear could mutate into a form that can pass easily between people, potentially causing a pandemic.
The country has already seen dozens of outbreaks of the virus in birds and at least 21 human cases, of whom 14 have died.
REUTERS DKB RN1730