Bird Flu Jumps to Pigs

Indonesian researchers have found a strain of bird flu in pigs on the densely populated island of Java (search), raising fears the virus could more easily spread to humans in the country, the government and scientists said Saturday.

C.A. Midan (search), the scientist who made the discovery, identified the strain found in the pigs as H5N1, which has jumped from chickens to humans elsewhere in Southeast Asia, killing 36 in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and four from Cambodia (search).

Dr. Nana Supriatna (search), an expert staff at the Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed the virus had been found pigs but declined to give any more details. He said officials were meeting Saturday to discuss the development.

Pigs, which are genetically similar to people, often carry the human influenza virus. Experts worry that pigs infected with both bird flu and its human equivalent could act as a "mixing bowl," resulting in a more dangerous, mutant virus that might spread to people more easily — and then from person to person.

They fear that could fuel a devastating flu outbreak, vastly exceeding the current annual death toll from human influenza, which kills 500,000 to one million people around the world each year.