H5N1 strain of bird flu reported in Myanmar

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been detected for the first time in chickens in Myanmar, veterinary officials in the Southeast Asian country said Monday.

Experts confirmed the cases in hundreds of dead chickens at a farm outside of the country's second largest city, Mandalay, over the weekend, said Than Tun, director of the country's livestock breeding and veterinary department.

The tests were sent to a laboratory in Australia for confirmation, he said.

Teams of experts were sent to the area to begin slaughtering chickens within a 3-kilometer (2-mile) radius of the farm where the infected birds were found.

Myanmar's military government, which generally restricts the free flow of information and exercises tight control over the mostly state-owned mass media, had previously said it would deal openly with any bird flu problems.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed or forced the slaughter of more than 140 million chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and has recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become a global pandemic.

That has not happened yet, but at least 97 people have died from the disease worldwide, two-thirds of them in Indonesia and Vietnam, according to figures by the World Health Organization, reports the AP.

I.L.