77 Japanese may have been infected with mild form of bird flu

Up to 77 people in Japan, most of them chicken farm workers, may have been infected with a mild form of bird flu, health officials said Tuesday. The sufferers came from two prefectures, Saitama and Ibaraki, outside of Tokyo, said Masahiko Shimada, an Ibaraki health official. Shimada said those who may have been infected showed evidence of antibodies to the H5N2 virus, which is weaker than the deadly H5N1 form. None of them showed signs of the disease and there was no danger that they would, Kyodo News agency reported.

"There needs to be further tests to confirm these results," Shimada cautioned. Shimada said that 70 people have tested positive for antibodies to the H5N2 in Ibaraki. Another seven people have tested positive for the same antibodies in Saitama, according to Tatemitsu Yoshida, a Saitama health official. He said that no virus had been found among them.

Yoshida said the central government notified health officials that the results do not pose any serious problems, but poultry farm workers should take appropriate measures such as wearing masks and washing their hands frequently.

The much more deadly H5N1 virus has killed at least 76 people worldwide since 2003, according to the World Health Organization's Web page. Japan so far has suffered one case of human infection of the more deadly virus, but no deaths.

There have been several outbreaks of bird flu among poultry flocks in Ibaraki, about 100 kilometers (65 miles) north of Tokyo.

Japan has culled hundreds of thousands of birds to stop the disease's spread since it was detected in the country in 2004 for the first time in decades. Shimada said Ibaraki Prefecture alone had culled 2.5 million birds since the outbreak began, reports the AP. I.L.

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