AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP)- A Dutch veterinarian is believed to be the first human victim of an outbreak of bird flu devastating the poultry industry in the Netherlands, the Agriculture Ministry said.

Bird flu, or avian influenza, has led to the slaughter of more than 11 million chickens, around 10 percent of all chickens in the Netherlands, since the outbreak began in late February.

The illness is often fatal for domesticated and wild birds, but is rarely dangerous for humans.

However, in 1997 six people in Hong Kong died after an outbreak of bird flu crossed into the human population.

More than 50 Dutch health workers have been infected with the disease since the outbreak began, but their only symptom was a mild eye infection, and all recovered quickly.

The 57-year-old doctor, who was not identified due to Dutch privacy laws, died Thursday of pneumonia in a hospital in the southern town of Den Bosch, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“It is very likely the man died of the bird flu because the virus was found in his lungs and there is no other explanation for his symptoms,” it said.

The veterinarian had not taken anti-viral medication recommended by health authorities for people in contact with sick birds. He became ill two days after starting work at an infected farm.

The Agriculture Ministry said it would investigate the unusual death and that tests at the National Influenza Center in Rotterdam would determine if the virus had mutated.

The disease has been confirmed in three provinces in the Netherlands and last week crossed the southern border to Belgium. Authorities there planned to begin the slaughter of 270,000 chickens and other birds Sunday from two farms near the Dutch border and in surrounding areas.

Belgian authorities said there was no danger from eating poultry or eggs and said any human health risk came from contact with sick birds.

The Dutch government continued to clear farms suspected of contamination and maintained quarantine measures and regional restrictions on shipments of poultry products.

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