Mutant H5N1 strain not a greater risk to humans, UN reports

The United Nations recently announced that it does not believe a mutant strain of the H5N1 bird flu virus detected in Vietnam poses any greater risk to human health.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization voiced concern about the appearance of the mutated virus in Vietnam and China, according to AFP. It warned that the strain could lead to a possible major resurgence of the virus, which developed into a pandemic in 2009.

After Indonesia, Vietnam has suffered the most deaths from bird flu cases. A total of 59 Vietnamese have died from the illness since 2003, according to data from the World Health Organization.

"The last human H5N1 cases in Vietnam were reported in April 2010, but none caused by the new strain," the WHO and FAO said in a joint statement, AFP reports. "There is no evidence to suggest yet that this new virus strain will have any increased risk to human health."

Vietnam’s animal health department is currently reporting that there is bird flu activity in four of its provinces.

The mutant strain, known as H5N1 –, was first detected in Vietnam in 2009. It has since replaced the previously dominant strain of the virus in 16 Vietnamese provinces this year, according to a UN statement.

In two of the 16 provinces, a further variant of the mutated strain was found that was only partially susceptible to current vaccines. The outbreaks from this type, however, were quickly controlled.

"Nevertheless, poultry producers and the general public should always take simple precautions to reduce exposure to the virus from infected poultry," the UN said. "These include extra vigilance for unusual poultry mortality, rapid reporting of disease to the authorities and good hygiene practices while handling, slaughtering and preparing poultry for consumption."

Vietnam has failed to control the virus fully since it was first detected in 2003. Every year, new provinces are infected.