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Bird flu found in chickens in eastern China

BEIJING -- Authorities in eastern China have killed more than 300,000 fowl after bird flu was discovered in chickens, the Agriculture Ministry said Tuesday.

Veterinary officials in Hai'an county and the city of Dongtai, both in Jiangsu province, said chickens in the two areas tested positive for the H5N1 virus, according to a ministry statement faxed to The Associated Press.

It did not say when the birds got sick, whether they had died from the virus or how many were infected. The areas are about 20 miles (30 kilometers) apart.

In order to prevent an outbreak, authorities in Hai'an and Dongtai killed 377,000 chickens and other domestic fowl in surrounding areas, the ministry said. They have also disinfected and quarantined affected zones and banned the transport of fowl and related products from Hai'an and Dongtai, it said.

Migrating birds may have been the source of the disease, it said, without giving details.

Experts have said that wild birds play a role in transmitting H5N1 into commercial poultry populations, although they believe the spread is largely related to the trade of birds and their products, including cross-border smuggling.

H5N1 has prompted the slaughter of millions of birds across Asia since late 2003 and caused the deaths of at least 246 people worldwide, around a third of them in Indonesia, according to the World Health Organization.

It remains hard for people to catch, with most human cases linked to contact with infected birds.

Last week, the Hong Kong government ordered the slaughter of more than 80,000 birds after three chickens found dead on a farm tested positive for the virus. It also imposed a 21-day ban on poultry imports.

Twenty countries had outbreaks during the first nine months of 2008, down from 25 during the same period last year, U.N. officials have said.

Some experts worry that the public has lost interest because the virus has so far not mutated into a much-feared form that could spread easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic. But the World Health Organization has urged Asian governments not to let down their guard against bird flu because the recent Hong Kong outbreak proved the disease still poses a threat.

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