Japanese agricultural officials confirmed yesterday that the virulent H5N1 bird flu virus caused the deaths of thousands of chickens at a poultry farm in southern Japan this week, Kyodo news agency reported.
At least 2,400 chickens have died since Wednesday at a farm in the town of Kiyotake in Miyazaki Prefecture, and prefectural officials were conducting bird flu tests.
The final results confirmed that the deaths were linked to the H5N1 strain of the virus, Kyodo said.
Miyazaki and Agricultural Ministry officials said the report could not be confirmed immediately.
Although bird flu is generally not harmful to humans, the H5N1 strain of the virus has claimed at least 157 lives worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry farms in late 2003, according to the WHO.
There has been one confirmed human case involving the H5N1 virus in Japan, but no reported human deaths. Japan's most recent outbreak occurred in Kyoto in 2004. Japan has had several outbreaks of bird flu viruses that are not harmful to humans since then.
On Friday, the government set up a task force and ordered 20 poultry farms within a 10km radius of the affected operator to halt shipments of eggs and chickens for the time being, said Toru Inoue, another prefectural official.
The Agriculture Ministry also ordered a nationwide inspection of poultry farms to detect any signs of sick birds, and environment officials began a national survey to look into the possibility that it might have been brought by migratory birds from other parts of Asia.