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Japan reports outbreak of fast-spreading bird flu
( 2004-01-12 17:05) (Agencies)

Japan has confirmed an outbreak of highly contagious bird flu, which has already ravaged parts of Asia's huge poultry industry in past weeks.

About 6,000 chickens found dead on a farm in the western prefecture of Yamaguchi died of avian influenza, prefectural officials said on Monday.

Officials said this is the first case of the disease -- which in rare cases can be deadly to humans -- in Japan since it swept through Hong Kong's poultry farms, killing six people in 1997 and 1998.

There was a case reported in Japan back in 1925, the Farm Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the virus found in the dead chickens in Yamaguchi was a strain of the H5 virus. The H5N1 virus, which combines genes from H5 and N1 subtypes of the avian influenza virus, triggered the Hong Kong outbreak.

All remaining chickens on the Yamaguchi farm would be culled and trading of poultry and eggs from the region stopped, the ministry said.

Bird flu has emerged in other countries recently, including Vietnam and Taiwan.

In South Korea, hundreds of thousands of chickens were culled after an outbreak of the disease and the country's modest poultry exports to Japan, Hong Kong and China have been stopped.

Vietnam said on Friday bird flu had wiped out hundreds of thousands of chickens. The government said it had ordered a culling campaign just weeks before the country's biggest festival.

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