UN Warns Of Bird Flu Resurgence, Mutant Strain
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Monday of a possible resurgence of the bird flu virus, and called for heightened preparedness and surveillance amid signs that a mutant strain of the deadly H5N1 virus is spreading throughout Asia and beyond.
In a statement issued Monday, the FAO said that wild bird migrations had brought the virus back to previously virus-free nations, and that a mutant strain, which can apparently sidestep defenses of existing vaccines, is spreading in China and Vietnam.
The H5N1 virus has infected 565 people in 63 nations since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 people. It was eliminated from most of the infected nations at its peak in 2006, following a mass poultry culling, but remained endemic in six countries: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
However, the virus has been expanding geographically since 2008 in both poultry and wild birds, partly due to migration patterns, the FAO said.
Indeed, the number of outbreaks in poultry and wild bird populations declined from a high of 4000 to 302 cases in mid-2008, but outbreaks have grown progressively since then, with nearly 800 cases reported in 2010-2011, FAO said.
Last week, the World Health Organization reported that a 6-year-old Cambodian girl had died on August 14 from H5N1 avian influenza — the eighth person to die from the virus this year in Cambodia.
Vietnam suspended its springtime poultry vaccination this year, while most of the northern and central parts of the country where the virus is endemic have been invaded by the new strain, the FAO said.
Elsewhere, bird migrations over the past two years have brought H5N1 to countries that had been virus-free for several years, such as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia, the U.N. agency said.
“Wild birds may introduce the virus, but people’s actions in poultry production and marketing spread it,” said Juan Lubroth of the FAO’s chief veterinary office.
Lubroth called for greater preparedness and surveillance to ensure that any outbreaks are contained.
“Preparedness and surveillance remain essential,” he stressed.
“This is no time for complacency. No one can let their guard down with H5N1.”
Speaking to UN Radio, Mr. Lubroth said there is no indication that the new virus strain will behave differently than the previous one, or that it is more dangerous to humans.
He also noted that all countries, including those where the virus is not entrenched, should be concerned that it has not been possible to eliminate and contain the H5N1 virus.
Poultry production and marketing will determine how the disease will spread, he said.
“Production practices and marketing practices should be better regulated and more hygienic, as the consumer needs to be protected as well as the production facilities because so many people´s livelihoods depend upon poultry and poultry rearing.”
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