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MIYAZAKI (Kyodo) The Miyazaki Prefectural Government said Saturday that six chickens from a poultry farm in the capital have been confirmed to have a highly pathogenic flu virus, prompting the central government to convene a task force.

The outbreak is the second to hit a poultry farm during the autumn and winter seasons since the November outbreak in Shimane Prefecture. Wild and free-range birds infected with the highly virulent H5N1 bird flu have been surfacing in Hokkaido and Tottori, Kagoshima and Fukushima prefectures since October. On Saturday, Hokkaido officials said the virus had also been detected in a weakened swan found in the town of Hamanaka.

The finding in Miyazaki is yet another blow to the prefecture’s livestock industry, which was hit by bird flu in 2007 and a foot-and-mouth epidemic last year that led to the slaughter of about 290,000 cows and pigs.

The chickens were examined in detail early Saturday after testing positive for bird flu in preliminary tests Friday. By Saturday evening, prefectural officials and experts had culled all of the roughly 10,000 chickens at the farm, where dozens of birds were previously found dead, local government officials said.

Miyazaki Prefecture is the nation’s No. 2 poultry producer after Kagoshima and shipped about 118 million young chickens for consumption in 2009, with combined chicken and egg shipments worth ¥63.7 billion, according to the latest data available from the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.

Six of the seven chickens tested, mostly from the 36 chickens found dead when the farm reported the incident Friday, had the H5 bird flu strain, the officials said, adding that 10 more chickens there died later.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said: “Making a quick and appropriate initial response is important. We will take full preparation measures” at a task force meeting before noon to address the development with all Cabinet members attending except Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, who is visiting Okinawa Prefecture.

The prefectural government conducted on-site inspections at all 46 farms within 10 km of the suspect farm after asking them not to transport their estimated 1.5 million chickens, or eggs.

A team of experts from the agriculture ministry also flew into Miyazaki and began epidemiological studies as part of an investigation into how the flu is spreading. They also visited some of the 26 disinfection stations set up on roads around the farm to sterilize any traffic.

Local officials in neighboring Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures called an emergency meeting to discuss countermeasures in the event the epidemic spreads beyond Miyazaki.

Based on samples sent by the local government, the National Institute of Animal Health in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, will check how dangerous the virus is, prefectural officials said.

“The virus is very likely a highly virulent one. It is shocking as we have enhanced prevention measures such as patrolling farms,” said Shusuke Iwasaki, a senior prefectural official in charge of livestock epidemic prevention.

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