UN warns of mutant strain of bird flu virus spreading in Asia
Aug 29, 2011, 11:08 GMT
Rome - A major resurgence of avian influenza was likely amid signs that a mutant strain of the bird flu virus was spreading in Asia and beyond, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned Monday.
The FAO urged increased preparedness and surveillance against the variant strain of H5N1, the virus that has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them. The latest death was reported in Cambodia earlier this month.
The virus remains endemic in six countries - Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Since 2003, it has killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry and caused 20 billion dollars in economic damage, FAO said, before it was eliminated from most of the 63 affected countries.
The FAO said the renewed geographic spread of the virus in poultry and wild birds was noted in 2008, an advance associated with the movements of migratory birds.
These migrations enable the virus to travel over long distances, said Juan Lubroth, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, and in the last two years H5N1 has shown up in poultry or wild birds in virus-free countries.
Recently affected areas were to be found in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia.
The appearance of a variant virus in China and Vietnam that is immune to existing vaccines is also a cause for concern, Lubroth said.
The new virus strain in Vietnam is known as H5N1 - 18.104.22.168., and the country was reportedly considering a novel vaccination campaign in autumn.
The virus circulation in Vietnam poses a 'direct threat' to Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and endangers the Korean peninsula and Japan, the FAO said.
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