The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said on Monday that a recently emerged strain of avian influenza in Asia represents a new threat to animal health and livelihoods.
The strain, known as A(H5N6), was first discovered by Chinese authorities in poultry in April of this year. Laos and Vietnam have since detected the disease in poultry.
The FAO said that the A(H5N6) must be closely monitored. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which works with the FAO and the World Health Organization to support responses to animal and human disease threats, said that countries must be vigilant.
"An effective surveillance and an early detection of animal disease at source are two main keys to reduce the risk of dissemination and to ensure safe trade," OIE Director-General Bernard Vallat said. "The OIE calls on its 180 member countries to respect their commitment and to immediately notify on WAHIS any outbreak detected on their territory."
Only one human case of A(H5N6) has been reported in humans so far. The case, a Chinese man who had contact with poultry, later died.
"Current evidence suggests H5N6 poses a limited threat to human health at this stage," Elizabeth Mumford, an epidemiologist with the WHO, said. "Of course, we still need to remain vigilant, because prevalence in poultry and therefore human exposure could increase during the winter."