updated 6/28/2005 4:58:19 AM ET 2005-06-28T08:58:19

Avian flu has killed 5,000 wild birds in China’s northwest, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, five times the number previously reported by the Chinese government.

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Twenty birds a day are still dying in Qinghai province, but that rate is falling and the outbreak appears to be winding down, said a member of a WHO team that visited the remote region last week with Chinese health officials.

Chinese authorities haven’t killed any birds to prevent the spread of the disease because they are rare, protected species, said Dr. Julie Hall, WHO’s China-based coordinator for communicable diseases, surveillance and response.

The 5,000 dead birds came from five species and included gulls, geese, shelduck and cormorant, according to the World Organization for Animal Health Web site.

Hall urged the Chinese government to carry out more testing for the deadly H5N1 flu virus, saying only 12 dead birds and two people have been tested, with the people coming up negative.

“What we want to see is more testing going on,” she said at a news conference.

China reported in May that 178 geese had been found dead in Qinghai Lake, a vast saltwater lake in Qinghai that is a major transit point for migratory birds. Authorities later raised that to 519 and then to about 1,000 in late May. The official toll hasn’t changed since then.

The government’s early reluctance to release information about the outbreak fueled concern about a possible cover-up and rumors on Web sites that as many as 120 people had died of the flu. Chinese authorities deny that any people have been infected.

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