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Last Updated: Monday, 28 March, 2005, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Seoul offers N Korea bird flu aid
A North Korean farmer with an ox-cart full walks down the road to Pyongyang, 13 February 2003.
North Korea is already struggling with food supplies
South Korea has said it is ready to help the North combat bird flu, after the isolated state publicly admitted on Sunday that it was fighting the virus.

Pyongyang has not asked Seoul for assistance, but a South Korean official said the official announcement appeared to indicate the North would accept aid.

The North says no people have been infected but hundreds of thousands of chickens have been culled.

Analysts warn that the virus could wipe out its fledgling chicken industry.

"North Korea, plagued by food shortages, has struggled to modernise and build facilities for the breeding and processing of chicken, a main source of animal protein," Kwon Tae-jin, an expert on North Korean agriculture based in Seoul, told the South Korean Munhwa Ilbo newspaper.

H5N1 BIRD FLU VIRUS
Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong, 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Isolated cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong and Vietnam

The North has not specified the type of bird flu virus it is battling. The H5N1 virus has killed almost 50 people since its resurgence in South East Asia in December 2003.

The state Korean Central News Agency only said that the outbreak was "recent" and occurred at "two or three" chicken farms.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has an office in Pyongyang, said it had been contacted by the North, and would co-ordinate counter-measures.

South Korea was to hold several meetings on Monday to decide on a strategy to help the North.

It has already put in place measures to prevent the spread of bird flu into the South, as rumours first surfaced of an outbreak in the North earlier this month.

South Korea has itself suffered several outbreaks of bird flu, but no human infections.

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could eventually combine with human flu and threaten a deadly pandemic.

There are suspected cases of the virus being passed between humans. So far, Vietnam has been the country hardest hit by this year's outbreak of bird flu.




SEE ALSO:
Bird flu outbreak in North Korea
27 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Second bird flu case in Cambodia
24 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Tests show bird flu cases missed
08 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Are we prepared for bird flu?
28 Feb 05 |  Health
Bird flu's 'huge potential risk'
21 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature
Q&A: Avian flu
17 Feb 05 |  Health


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