Scientists in Hong Kong and the United States have detected a new strain of bird flu in China that could start a new wave of outbreaks.

The discovery by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, is reported in the newest issue of U.S.-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists named the new strain "the Fujian-like virus," because it was first discovered in China's southern Fujian province.

They say the strain has become the primary version of the bird flu in several Chinese provinces, and has already spread to Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Public health authorities fear the virus could mutate into a strain that can easily spread from human to human, raising a potential of a worldwide pandemic.

The first wave of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu outbreaks occurred three years ago in many parts of Asia. It has killed at least 148 people worldwide. Most victims contracted the virus from dead or sick birds.