New Strain of Bird Flu No Surprise to Experts

free range chickens in a feeding frenzy
The new Fujian-like strain of the avian flu has spread through parts of Asia.

A new strain of the avian flu that is resistant to current vaccines has begun infecting people and poultry in Asia, reports an October 30 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers believe vaccination programs in China and elsewhere that were intended to protect poultry populations from the more common H5N1strain may have driven the emergence of the variation. The new form of the virus, labeled “Fujian-like” after the coastal Chinese province where it was identified last year, has become dominant in southern China and has also spread to Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Aside from being widespread, the new variant does not indicate any increased risk of transmission among humans, according to Dr. Michael L. Perdue with the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Global Influenza Programme in Switzerland. Experts agree that since the virus is constantly mutating, the development of the Fujian-like strain is no surprise. So far, since 2003, more than 250 people have been infected with H5N1 and 151 have died, according to the WHO.

In her report Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry, Worldwatch Institute researcher Danielle Nierenberg notes that current factory farming methods create optimal conditions for the spread of dangerous epidemics, including new strains of avian flu. “As animal populations increase and there is greater demand for intensively raised poultry and other animal products, we'll see diseases like avian flu and nipah virus and others mutate into forms that can easily spread to humans,” she says.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.