Mutant Bird Flu - How big a risk is bird flu?

A Big Flap about a bit of Flu?” The article by Prof Mabey from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine helps to place the risk to humans in context.

Another new mutant strain of bird flu has (perhaps unsurprisingly) emerged for which vaccines don’t work. The United Nations has warned that it ‘could’ spread in Asia. The new variant appeared in Vietnam and China and its risk to humans “cannot be predicted”, veterinary officials have said. They warn that the virus circulation in Vietnam, where eight people have died after becoming infected this year, now threatens Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia. The World Health Organization says bird flu has killed 331 people since 2003.

The fear has caused the culling of more than 400m domestic poultry worldwide and caused an estimated $20bn (£12.2bn) of economic damage.

"Heightened readiness and surveillance" against a resurgence of the virus.

At its 2006 peak there were 4,000 outbreaks, but bird flu remains endemic in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. According the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) chief veterinary officer, the number of cases has been rising again since 2008, apparently due to migratory bird movements. They say: "Wild birds may introduce the virus, but people's actions in poultry production and marketing spread it". Avian flu has in the past two years appeared in poultry or wild birds in countries that had been virus-free for several years: Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Bulgaria, Romania, Nepal and Mongolia are among those recently affected. The FAO report that the new strain had infected most parts of northern and central Vietnam and could also pose a risk to Japan and the Korean peninsula. South Korea have begun culling hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks in December last year after confirming its first cases since 2008.

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