UN warns Asia of new bird flu strain

A mutant strain of H5N1, which can apparently sidestep defences of existing vaccines, is spreading in China and Vietnam, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said. It urged greater surveillance to ensure that any outbreaks are contained.

Last week, the World Health Organisation reported that a 6-year-old Cambodian girl had died on Aug 14 from bird flu, the eighth person to die from H5N1 avian influenza this year in Cambodia. Vietnam suspended its springtime poultry vaccination this year. Most of the northern and central parts of the country where the virus is endemic have been invaded by the new strain.

Elsewhere, FAO says bird migrations over the past two years have brought H5N1 to countries that had been virus-free for several years, including Israel, the Palestinian territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia. “Wild birds may introduce the virus, but people’s actions in poultry production and marketing spread it,” said FAO’s chief veterinary office Juan Lubroth.

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