New H5N1 bird flu outbreak confirmed in hens in northeastern Thailand

A fresh outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu has been found in hens in northeastern Thailand, livestock officials said Tuesday.

The outbreak of the virus was confirmed by laboratory tests after the deaths of about 200 chickens were reported in Nong Khai province last week, said Nirand Uaebumrungsut, a veterinarian with the Agriculture Ministry's Department of Livestock Development.

Last week, livestock officials reported the country's first outbreak in almost six months of H5N1, in ducks in the northern Thai province of Phitsanulok.

In Nong Khai, a province bordering Laos, "The virus was found in egg hens in a chicken farm and we have ordered around 2,000 chickens in the farm to be killed," said Nirand.

The department has been gathering birds from within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius of the outbreak to be culled. It will also keep watch to stop the illegal movement of birds in the area. Both actions are standard practices when outbreaks are found.

Since it began ravaging Asia's poultry in late 2003, the H5N1 bird flu virus has spread to the Middle East and Africa and killed at least 163 people around the world, according to the World Health Organization.

There have been 17 human deaths in Thailand, all linked to contact with sick birds. WHO fears the virus could mutate into a form that easily spreads among humans, possibly sparking a pandemic.

In Bangkok, bird flu experts at a regional meeting urged Asian countries Monday to be on heightened alert for new outbreaks ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year and Tet holidays, amid a resurgence in the deadly virus around the region, reports AP.

Since the beginning of the year, there have been new bird flu flare-ups in China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The number of outbreaks so far in 2007 are "significantly lower" than previous in years, but the virus typically flourishes this time of year, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization officials told a news conference in Bangkok.

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