Doctors are urged to look out for signs of a new strain of bird flu in patients, as experts warn that this “serious threat” could cause a pandemic.
The new strain of H7N9 virus, which first emerged just over a month ago, has now claimed 24 lives in China and has infected at least 126 people.
Around 11,000 British citizens travel to China each week and around 3,500 Chinese visit this country.
Recent research shows that the virus has already started mutating into a highly infectious disease that could spread throughout the human population.
There are currently no cases of the virus in Europe but doctors are taking precautionary measures to avoid it becoming a worldwide threat. However, senior scientists who have carried out research in the UK, insist that the current risk to people living in the UK is “very low”.
The disease causes severe respiratory illness, blood poisoning and even organ failure that can lead to death.
Around a fifth of those infected have died while 60 per cent remain seriously ill in hospital, according to the Chinese health authorities.
Research, published in The Lancet journal, analysed the genetic structure of the H7N9 virus and found that it may have evolved from at least four other flu viruses that have mixed together in wild bird populations, ducks and domestic chickens.
For it to pose more of a threat to humans it would need to mutate in the specific ways that make it able to attach to cells in the human lungs and spread from person to person.