The Associated Press, via, via reports:

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - Authorities ordered the slaughter of 17,000 chickens after 6,000 chickens died from a mysterious respiratory illness in a central western Brazilian state, officials said.

Sanitary authorities do not know what kind of disease the chickens had, but expect to identify it by the end of this week, Gladys Raquel, an animal sanitation manger with the state government of Mato Grosso do Sul state, said Tuesday in a statement.

Raquel and officials with Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry refused to answer questions about the illness, or whether it was had similar symptoms to bird flu disease in Asia, saying they want to wait for the test results.

The regional death toll in Asia’s latest bird flu outbreak stands at 54 people. Vietnam suffered the most deaths with 38.

The Brazilian farm at the center of the outbreak was quarantined with road blocks.

Brazil is the world’s largest chicken exporter. Production in South America’s largest country rose 8 percent last year, with exports skyrocketing 26 percent, in part because of the outbreak of bird flu in Asia.

AP-ES-05-31-05 2038EDT