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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Avian Flu on the Rise in Japan

TOKYO -- Preliminary tests show bird flu killed 31 chickens at a farm in western Japan, a local government official said Sunday, the latest in a string of recent outbreaks among the country's poultry stocks.

Authorities expect to have definitive lab results showing whether the virus was the H5N1 strain that is harmful to humans after midday Monday, state official Kohei Kurose said.

Officials have begun sterilizing the farm in Takahashi, western Okayama prefecture, and neighboring farms have been asked to refrain from moving their chickens, he said.

All 12,000 birds at the farm will be slaughtered if the final tests come back positive, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in a statement.

Takahashi is about 560 kilometers west of Tokyo.

Meanwhile, authorities continued to slaughter chickens at a poultry farm in southern Japan where the H5N1 virus killed 3,000 chickens earlier this week.

About 40,000 of the remaining 49,000 birds at the farm in Hyuga in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan's main chicken-producing region, had been culled by Sunday, Miyazaki official Hisanori Ogura said.

Another 50,000 chickens at a neighboring farm will also be killed as a precaution, Ogura said.

Earlier this month, some 4,000 chickens died from H5N1 in another town in Miyazaki, about 900 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.

The H5N1 strain is known to have killed 164 worldwide since 2003, most of them in Asia. Some 200 million birds have been killed by the virus or culled to prevent its spread.

Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

Cases of the virus have flared up across Asia in recent weeks, as in previous winters, taking the death toll in Indonesia to 63, the country hardest hit in terms of fatalities.

A 14-year-old boy in Azerbaijan has been sent to hospital as a suspected case, while Vietnam is trying to control the spread of the disease among birds in the Mekong Delta.

The first outbreak of bird flu in the European Union this year was confirmed on Wednesday after the H5N1 strain was detected in geese in Hungary.

(AP, Reuters)