WHO downplays new H5N1 variant

The World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health recently downplayed the significance of a new H5N1 strain that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported as a potentially dangerous development.

The FAO recently announced that an H5N1 variant named clade had appeared in China and Vietnam and that existing poultry vaccines had proven ineffective against it, CIDRAP News reports. The announcement cited increases in H5N1 outbreaks and said that the virus was potentially poised for a major global resurgence.

The WHO responded by saying that its Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System recognized the new variant in February and that the H5N1 evolution posed no serious increased risk to public health. The global health organization also said that it is not unusual for the influenza virus to constantly evolve, especially when it circulates regularly in poultry.

According to the WHO, the OIE reference laboratory in Harbin, China, has developed a vaccine that can protect poultry against clade The vaccine has been successful in trials and will be available for use in countries where the new strain has been identified.

In Hong Kong, the clade virus reportedly infected a 59-year-old woman last November, most likely while she visited mainland China. The woman has since made a full recovery.