PARIS (Reuters) - More money needs to be spent on detecting disease in domestic and wild animals, an intergovernmental group said on Wednesday, following a series of bird flu outbreaks and previous mutations of animal viruses into ones that can be passed between humans.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said governments had cut funding after previous health crises had abated, and needed to reconsider that decision in that light of recent outbreaks.

"Resources have been affected to other priorities. We must come back to appropriate levels to have an early detection of cases," OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told Reuters.

Vallat said animal producers, hunters, anglers and other users of the natural environment were also key players in early detection of viruses with whom it was important to cooperate.

Germany, the Netherlands and Britain have reported cases in recent weeks of the highly pathogenic bird flu virus H5N8, which is similar to one found in Asia earlier this year that led in South Korea to a massive culling of poultry flocks.

Canada said on Tuesday bird flu had killed thousands of turkeys and chickens in the province of British Columbia. That virus type was identified as H5 but the precise variant remained unclear.

The H5N8 strain -- as opposed to the H5N1 strain that sparked a health crisis a few years ago -- has never been detected in humans. But the Paris-based OIE warned influenza viruses could mutate, giving Ebola as an example.

Ebola was initially transmitted to humans by a wild animal before turning into a human-to-human pandemic, Vallat said. The disease had killed over 6,000 people worldwide by the end of last month, data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show.

"All influenza viruses can mutate," Vallat said. "We need to be vigilant on the ground to quickly detect bird flu cases and avoid a spread of the virus ... and we need to monitor in labs any genetic change that could be worrying for humans."

The OIE said 75 percent of new human diseases were derived from pathogens transmitted by animals, whether domestic or wild.

 

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Mark Potter)