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Avian Flu Spreads to Wild Birds in Asia

Bird flu may have killed wild storks in a Thai bird sanctuary, while Japan has announced it has a second outbreak of bird flu.

The bird flu that has spread to chickens around Asia and killed at least 20 people now appears to be spreading to flocks of wild birds.

Reports emerged Tuesday that the flu may have killed several wild storks at a Thailand bird sanctuary. Thai animal health experts say tests are being done on more than dozen birds, but they say news reports that hundreds of storks died are incorrect.

Thai officials had predicted the disease would be stamped out among the country's poultry flocks in March.

But the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization says it is unlikely Thailand or other Southeast Asian nations will be free of the bird flu next month.

Hans Wagner, an animal health expert with the FAO's Bangkok office, says the culling of more than 30 million chickens in Thailand has not eliminated the disease. That is in part because the disease spread so far before culling began.

"You cannot expect that with one round of stamping out and culling you have eliminated the virus from the environment," he said.

Dr. Wagner says that animal health experts attending an meeting next week in Bangkok will discuss the feasibility of vaccinating poultry to reduce the disease's spread.

The World Health Organization says that as long as the bird flu is found in poultry it will pose a threat to humans, especially those working on chicken farms.

So far, however, only about 30 human cases have been reported, all of them in Thailand and Vietnam. Two thirds of those cases were fatal and health experts fear the virus could pick up human influenza traits and learn to spread easily between people, causing a global health threat.

At least 10 Asian countries have reported outbreaks of flu viruses in poultry. The United States also has found outbreaks of a mild form of bird flu in a few areas.

Japan, which was one of the first countries to report an outbreak and contain it in January, announced on Tuesday that the virus was detected in chickens on one of its southern islands.