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UN: N. Korean Bird Flu Outbreak Contained

A U.N. agency says North Korea's bird flu outbreak is under control. But an agency consultant says North Korea needs to build up its ability to monitor animal disease outbreaks across the country.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says North Korea has acted "promptly and appropriately" in dealing with its outbreak of avian influenza.

FAO consultant Les Sims was in Pyongyang 10 days ago. He says North Korean authorities cooperated with his team, and he has established a good relationship for on-going surveillance against the disease.

He warns that it is too early to say that the disease has been eradicated.

"According to current guidelines, the country still cannot be regarded as being free from the disease...I mean, it takes time to be sure of that," he said.

North Korea confirmed last month it had experienced bird flu outbreaks on three major poultry farms, including one close to the capital, Pyongyang. Reports of the outbreak prompted South Korea to cancel the first scheduled import of North Korean poultry in half a century. Japan also banned North Korean poultry.

Pyongyang quickly asked for outside help in containing the outbreak, and Mr. Sims was sent into the country at the head of a team of veterinary experts.

The virus killing the chickens was found to be different from the strain that has killed millions of birds and dozens of people in other parts of Asia. The strain in North Korea was determined to be the H7 variety, which experts say is not dangerous to humans.

North Korean authorities culled more than 200,000 birds, and vaccinated poultry in unaffected areas.

Mr. Sims says the North Korean farms were well run, and he cannot yet explain why the disease broke out. He says the impoverished country does need to improve its ability to monitor for poultry diseases.

"There are weaknesses still in the surveillance system because of the resource limitations that North Korea has… The actual overall infrastructure for doing surveillance for these viruses across the whole country needs to be strengthened considerably," he said.

The virulent H5N1 strain of avian virus - the strain that was not found in North Korea - has killed at least 51 people in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia since January of 2004. Most if not all of those infections occurred from the handling of infected poultry.