New influenza strains that have emerged in recent years could cause a pandemic on the level of the Spanish Flu that killed more than 50 million people.

Authorities are on high alert as an increasing number of reports of humans being infected by bird flu have emerged, particularly in China, according to Daily Mail.

In a study published by the Archives of Public Health, UNSW researchers have recommend banning the sale of live birds in wet markets in Asia to reduce the spread of the virus.

Previously, influenza strains have been thought to be transmissible only between birds and humans, with fatalities rare.

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But the study suggests new viruses circulating among birds in recent years would increase the likelihood that one could mutate and become transmissible between humans.

Co-author of the study Ranina MacIntyre said the increase in strains were a sign of a trend and a flu pandemic on the level of the Spanish Flu was "very possible" because of this.

"Some of the reasons [for the increase] involve things like climate change, urbanisation, but none of these things have increased at the rate the virus is increasing so there's something else going on," she told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Killing 50 million people in from 1918 to 1919, the Spanish Flu has still given scientists pause over its origin and how it took the lives of so many people.

Professor MacIntyre warned that that countries and public sectors needed take prepared measures to combat such a deadly disease should it arise.

A new study suggests that viruses circulating amongst birds in recent years, would increase the likelihood that one could mutate and become transmissible between humans. Photo/Getty Images
A new study suggests that viruses circulating amongst birds in recent years, would increase the likelihood that one could mutate and become transmissible between humans. Photo/Getty Images

"When health systems become stressed and unable to cope with the sick, that is when we are truly tested."

The study also called on the banning the sale of live birds in Asia and controlling the purchase of freshly slaughtered poultry to minimise the risk of humans interacting with their bodily fluids.

Vaccination was also an issue raised in another study by the UNSW, saying focusing vaccinating adults instead of children of conscientious objectors is key to preventing disease.

According to the Medical Journal of Australia, adults make up 92 per cent of 4.1 million Australians who are unvaccinated.

"There is a need for governments, the media, providers and individuals to direct more attention towards the large numbers of adults who are unnecessarily susceptible to vaccine-preventable disease each year," the study said

Influenza is responsible for an estimated 300,000 general practitioner visits, 18,000 hospital admissions and 3,000 deaths each year in Australia.