Japan raises bird-flu alert to highest level

Japan's Environment Ministry on Thursday raised the nation's bird flu alert to the highest level after highly pathogenic viruses were detected in two prefectures.

The avian influenza viruses were found in chickens at a poultry farm in Yokote City in the northeastern prefecture of Akita and in the water of a rice paddy in Izumi City in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima.

A national research institute confirmed that the virus detected in Akita was H5N8, which is the deadly strain that caused the country's largest-ever bird flu outbreak last winter. The strain found in Kagoshima was also identified as an H5 virus.

The agriculture ministry suspects that a wild animal may have carried the virus.

The Environment Ministry is calling on local governments across the country to strengthen the monitoring of wild birds.

The ministry will designate a 10-kilometer radius of the infection sites in Akita and Kagoshima as priority surveillance areas and conduct emergency surveys with authorities in the two prefectures.

The ministry says bird flu is unlikely to be transmissible to humans unless they come into excessive contact with infected birds.

But ministry officials are calling on people to wash their hands and gargle well if they touch bird excrement, and to inform local authorities when they find a dead wild bird.