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China: Bird Flu Cases Suspected

China said Sunday it had asked for outside help to test three possible cases of bird flu in humans, and reported that its latest outbreak among poultry lies along a migration route for wild birds.

As North Korea announced its leaders were taking the threat of bird flu seriously, Japan mulled a plan to give $2.6 million to the World Health Organization to help combat bird flu and other infectious outbreaks in developing countries.

China said Sunday it had asked WHO to help it determine whether the death of a 12-year-old girl last month was caused by bird flu.

There have been four outbreaks of the deadly and virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu among poultry in China in the past three weeks, but Beijing has not confirmed any human deaths from the virus, which has killed at least 62 people across Southeast Asia.

But on Sunday, Xinhua reported that Chinese experts "cannot rule out the possibility of human transmission of H5N1 bird flu" in the cases of three people in Wantang in central Hunan province who came down with pneumonia last month following a bird flu outbreak among local poultry.

One of them, the 12-year-old girl, died. Her 9-year-old brother and a 36-year-old middle school teacher recovered. Chinese officials initially said the girl and her brother tested negative for the bird flu virus.

Since late 2003, the H5N1 strain of bird flu has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia and jumped from birds to humans. Most of the human deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds. But experts fear the virus could mutate into a form easily passed among humans and possibly spark a worldwide flu pandemic.

China, which was heavily criticized during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome for initially covering up the illness, has pledged to be more open about reporting on bird flu.

Meanwhile in Liaoning province's Badaohao village, close to the border with North Korea, 1,700 officials and 100 police finished culling about 370,000 birds after bird flu killed 8,940 chickens there.

Xinhua said that Badaohao lies along a migration route used by migratory birds heading from East Asia to Australia, contributing to fears that wild birds could spread the disease.

In North Korea, the official Korean Central News Agency said officials and workers across the country "have turned out as one in the prevention of bird flu."

Leader Kim Jong Il "recently spoke of bird flu several times and took concrete measures," KCNA said.

Ministries are studying the situation abroad and have intensified quarantine at ports and airports, KCNA said. Chicken farms are also preventing visitors from entering and are sterilizing coops and vehicles, it said.

Japan was mulling a plan to give $2.6 million to the WHO to help combat bird flu and other infectious outbreaks in developing countries, the national newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday, citing unnamed government sources.

Tokyo, which gave around $1.36 million to the global health agency for 2005, said the money would be used to improve surveillance of infection routes of bird flu and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, the report said.

Also Sunday, authorities ruled out bird flu as the cause of death in 100 pigeons in western Malaysia. Tests on the dead birds in Bidor, about 75 miles north of Kuala Lumpur, showed they had not contracted the virus, Hawari Hussein, an Agriculture Ministry official said.

More tests were being carried out to establish what killed the birds, he said.

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