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Japan's 1st deadly mass avian flu infections among wild ground birds hits crows in Hyogo

ITAMI, Hyogo -- A recent spate of crow fatalities at a park here has been confirmed to be caused by the country's first known cases of deadly mass infections of avian flu among wild ground birds, raising an alarm among the Environment Ministry and other concerned parties.

    Since last fall, when the current avian flu season set in, jungle crows that were found dead at Koyaike Park in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, have accounted for some 70 percent of dead wild birds across the country that have been put to simple virus tests. Among them, at least 100 carcasses have been retrieved. While there is little chance of the avian flu virus being transmitted to humans, authorities are scrambling to determine the cause of the deadly mass infection phenomenon.

    According to the Environment Ministry and other sources, dead crows were found at the park for the first time this season on March 1. Carcasses of crows have since been retrieved one after another at the park, with the highly pathogenic H5N6 strain of bird flu virus detected in 38 of them.

    Apart from this, the Itami Municipal Government has also collected the carcasses of about 70 other birds. While the causes of their deaths have yet to be determined, most of them are believed to have died from bird flu.

    The city has cordoned off part of Koyaike Park since March, and the Environment Ministry designated an area within a 10-kilometer radius from the park as a section where wild birds are closely monitored. The designation is expected to be effective until later this month.

    Previously, domestic avian flu deaths among wild birds were mostly water birds. Since last fall, the domestic cases of birds confirmed to have died from avian flu were also predominantly water birds. An official at the Environment Ministry's Office for Wildlife Management said, "It is unusual for wild ground birds to be infected in groups at one single location."

    "The avian flu virus usually does not transmit to humans, so it is not necessary to be overly worried about it. We would like people to make sure that they wash their hands and then gargle if they come in contact with birds' feces or carcasses."

    (Japanese original by Ryo Watanabe, Science & Environment News Department)

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