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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Xinjiang region has culled more than 55,000 chickens and other poultry following an outbreak of a highly virulent bird flu that has infected 16,000 birds, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Tuesday.
The H5N6 strain of the virus was confirmed in Yining, a city of 500,000 people, and has killed 10,716 birds, the ministry said.
It is the fourth flu outbreak among poultry since October and brings the total cull since then to more than 170,000 birds. Flocks are particularly vulnerable to avian flu during the winter months and sporadic outbreaks are relatively common.The culling comes amid fears about the spread of avian flu across Asia, with South Korea battling its worst-ever outbreak and Japan and India also killing flocks.
South Korea is currently trying to contain the H5N6 strain, which has caused 10 human deaths in China since April 2014.
At least seven people in China have been infected this winter with the H7N9 bird flu strain and two have died.
To bolster their defence against infection, Chinese poultry farmers have scrambled to give their chickens more vitamins and vaccines in recent weeks.
Beijing has banned poultry imports from more than 60 countries and said any countries with highly pathogenic cases will automatically go onto that list. Regional authorities in three provinces have curbed live poultry trading in some cities to prevent the spread of the disease.
The last major bird flu outbreak in China in 2013 killed 36 people and caused more than $6 billion in losses for the agriculture sector.
In a statement on its website on Sunday, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the issue warrants greater attention this year, because the disease is developing earlier than in previous years, and cases are increasing more quickly in some districts.
Delegations from Japan, South Korea and China gathered in Beijing earlier this month for a symposium on preventing and controlling bird flu and other diseases in East Asia, the Agriculture ministry's website showed.
Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; Editing by Christian Schmollinger