The avian influenza strain H5N6, which was first reported by Chinese authorities in April, represents a new threat to animal health and livelihoods and must be closely monitored, warns the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The strain has since emerged in Laos and Vietnam.
That the virus is highly virulent in chickens and geese and has potentially spread across a large part of Southeast Asia translates into a real threat to poultry-related livelihoods, warns the FAO.
The H5N6 outbreaks could potentially overwhelm animal health systems in Southeast Asia. An previous strain of the virus, H5N1, has already impacted the livelihoods of millions of people and caused billions of dollars of damage.
The FAO is warning countries at risk to remain vigilant. In order to prevent the strain’s further spread, the organization is recommending that governments support poultry producers in following essential biosecurity measures and standard hygiene precautions. In collaboration with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), priority actions need to be focused on prevention, early detection, immediate reporting and response.
“H5N6 is particularly worrisome,” said FAO chief veterinary officer Juan Lubroth, “since it has been detected in several places so far from one another, and because it is so highly pathogenic, meaning infected poultry quickly become sick and, within 72 hours, death rates are very high.”