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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan has culled nearly 130,000 poultry since the start of this year as authorities on Tuesday reported a fresh strain of bird flu cases on the island.
The highly pathogenic H5N6 avian flu has been confirmed in three cities and counties, the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine said.
"We are very concerned with H5N6, not of the bird-to-human transmission, but that it will become like South Korea where they had to cull around 33 million birds within three months resulting in significant damage to their industry," Huang Tze-chung, the bureau's director general, told a news briefing.
Taiwan can meet about 80 percent of its poultry needs on its own. It imports poultry meat mainly from the United States and exports very little poultry.
According to the bureau, most of the birds culled this year so far were afflicted with the H5N2 and H5N8 strains of the bird flu. A total of 13 poultry farms have been affected this year so far, it said.
But in recent days, confirmed cases of H5N6 bird flu were found on poultry farms in Chiayi and Tainan near the western coast and Hualien on the eastern coast, Huang said.
Earlier this month, Taiwan reported its first imported human case of bird flu in a 69-year-old Taiwanese man, who was diagnosed with the H7N9 bird flu virus after returning from travel to southern China.
The man remains under care in the hospital, said Chou Jih-haw, director general of the Centers for Disease Control under the island's health ministry.
The global spread of bird flu and the number of viral strains currently circulating and causing infections have reached unprecedented levels, raising the risk of a potential human outbreak, according to disease experts.
Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Christian Schmollinger