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Japan unable to find source of bird flu outbreak

by 5m Editor
14 January 2004, at 12:00am

JAPAN - Japanese officials, striving to halt the spread of bird flu, said on Wednesday they had so far been unable to discover how the outbreak occurred.

Japan unable to find source of bird flu outbreak - JAPAN - Japanese officials, striving to halt the spread of bird flu, said on Wednesday they had so far been unable to discover how the outbreak occurred.

Farm Ministry officials said it was the same strain, called H5N1, as has hit South Korea and Vietnam, wreaking havoc on their poultry industries.

But they have been unable to track down how the disease came to be found in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi.

"We don't want to make any assumptions at this moment...as we are studying all possibilities," a ministry official said.

It is Japan's first outbreak of avian flu in in nearly 80 years.

Asked about the possibility that migratory birds may have been the carriers of the disease, as some experts have speculated, the official said: "That is one of the several possibilities that is being studied."

He said although the same strain affecting birds in Japan had been found in South Korea, it did not necessarily mean South Korea was the source of the outbreak.

In 1997, the same strain of bird flu, also known as avian influenza strain A, killed six people in Hong Kong.

Vietnam said on Wednesday that a 15-month-girl and a man are the latest suspected cases of bird flu infection.

They were among 15 people who fell ill with influenza in Hanoi and surrounding provinces. Twelve, most of them children, have died, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that bird flu killed three of them.

Safeguards

About 13,700 chickens at one farm in Japan's Yamaguchi were believed to have died of the disease by Tuesday, a local government official said.

All the remaining chickens on the farm, which initially had some 34,600 birds, will be slaughtered, he said.

Farms located within a 30-km (20-mile) radius have been banned from shipping eggs and chicken to prevent the spread of the disease.

"Our primary goal is to contain the disease so that it doesn't spread further," the official said.

Japan exports very little of its chicken, and the outbreak is unlikely to disrupt supplies in other countries.

In calendar 2002 Japan exported some 2,900 tonnes of chicken, almost all of which was shipped to Hong Kong, a ministry official said.

Imports, on the other hand, typically account for about 30-35 percent of Japan's domestic consumption, which in the year ended in March 2003 amounted to about 1.744 million tonnes.

Thailand shipped 183,000 tonnes of chicken to Japan in calendar 2002, Brazil 168,000 tonnes, China 119,000 tonnes and the United States 50,000 tonnes, together accounting for about 99 percent of all Japanese imports of chicken that year.

The outbreak of bird flu has dismayed Japanese consumers, already worried about food after reports of mad cow disease, koi carp herpes and food labelling scandals.

Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei called on Tuesday for the public to react calmly, saying there have been no reports of humans catching bird flu from eating chicken or eggs.

Source: Reuters - 14th January 2004

5m Editor