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Southern Japan hit by another case of suspected bird flu

| Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007

TOKYO (AP) — Another outbreak of bird flu was suspected in southern Japan on Tuesday after 23 chickens were found dead at a farm, fueling concern about a string of cases in the country's poultry industry.

The latest outbreak occurred in the town of Shitomi in southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki, which saw two separate bird flu cases earlier this month, Agriculture Ministry official Yasushi Yamaguchi said.

The case would mark Japan's fourth bird flu incident in the past month. Authorities found 23 chickens dead at the farm in Shitomi, and seven of 13 birds that were tested showed initial signs of bird flu, Yamaguchi said.

"We found the dead birds today and are investigating whether the virus is present," the official said. Results could take days.

The farm was quarantined and chicken ranchers within a six-mile radius were told not to transport poultry out of the area.

Separately Tuesday, officials were trying to determine whether the virus that killed dozens of chickens in the western prefecture of Okayama was the deadly H5N1 variety.

The H5N1 was pinpointed in the earlier Miyazaki outbreaks, which forced the slaughter of thousands of chickens in the region.

The H5N1 virus has prompted the slaughter of millions of birds across Asia since late 2003, and caused the deaths of at least 163 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Japan has confirmed only one human H5N1 infection, and no human deaths.

The bird flu virus remains hard for humans to catch, but international experts fear it may mutate into a form that could spread easily among people and possibly kill millions around the world.

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