Tokyo - A new computer virus which flashes a "Pokemon" cartoon character before infecting users' e-mail has been discovered in the United States, a Japanese anti-virus firm said on Thursday.

But its destructive potential was far less than the "ILOVEYOU" virus, which caused world-wide chaos in May, and no damage had so far been reported, Tokyo-based Trend Micro Inc said.

"After receiving reports from users, we added extra measures to our anti-virus software to combat the Pokemon virus," said Yuji Nagashima, a spokesman for Trend Micro.

"The virus originated in the US around late June," he told AFP. "We have yet to receive any reports of it spreading to Japan, but the possibility of infection is there."

The virus appears in an attachment to an e-mail entitled "Pikachu Pokemon," which contains the English text message "Pikachu is your friend," Trend Micro said.

If the attachment is opened, an image of the yellow rabbit-like Pikachu character appears beside the words: "Between millions of people around the world i (eds: correct) found you.

"Don't forget to remember this day every time MY FRIEND!"

The virus could then send itself to all users found in the computer owner's email address book in Microsoft Corp's Outlook Express, and cause operating systems to malfunction.

But Trend Micro had received only 10 reports of the virus and no one had actually opened the attachment yet, said Nagashima.

"The virus is not as infectious as the "ILOVEYOU" bug because before it can start damaging the operating system for Windows Outlook, the 'yes/no' icon appears asking the user whether to go on.

"And that's why we've had so few reports because nobody is fool enough to click 'yes'."

"Pocket Monsters" (Pokemon), mostly rotund, pixie-like characters, were created in 1996 for software in Nintendo Co's Game Boy console. They now appear in everything from a television series and films to collectors' cards and electronic games.

Officials at Nintendo were unavailable for comment on the new virus. - Sapa-AFP