By Thomas Escritt

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch authorities on Sunday said they had found the H5N8 strain of bird flu at a poultry farm in the central Netherlands, the same highly contagious strain as found this month in Germany and which has prompted massive poultry culls in Asia.

Agricultural inspectors set about destroying the 150,000 chickens at the farm in the village of Hekendorp, and banned poultry transport across the whole of the Netherlands.

The H5N8 strain of bird flu was reported in Germany on Nov. 4 on a farm in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern after it caused widespread destruction in Asia.

The strain has never been detected in humans, but an outbreak in South Korea meant millions of farm birds had to be slaughtered to contain the outbreak. Cases have also been reported in China and Japan, although the strain had not been reported in Europe before the German case.

"It's a highly pathogenic strain for birds," said Dutch economics ministry spokesman Jan van Diepen. "For people it's not that dangerous: you'd only get it if you were in very close contact with the birds."

The farm at Hekendorp sold eggs rather than poultry, another spokesman said.

Produce from the farm was sold primarily in the Netherlands, the farm's owner Piet Wiltenburg said, with some also exported to Germany. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with that produce," he told Reuters.

Some 10,000 chickens were destroyed in March after bird flu was found at a farm in the eastern Dutch province of Gelderland,

but the country has not had cases of any of the highly contagious H5 or H7 strains of bird flu in the past 10 years, according to data from the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Earlier outbreaks in Europe and Asia have infected humans, prompting fears of a bird flu epidemic.

Authorities on Sunday morning imposed a 72-hour ban on transporting all poultry products, including birds, eggs, dung and used straw to and from poultry farms throughout the country. They also imposed a countrywide ban on all kinds of hunting.

The ban will remain in force for 30 days for the 16 poultry farms within a 10 kilometer radius of the site of the outbreak, and all of them will be subject to enhanced security measures for visitors and regularly checked for signs of bird flu.

In September, Russia reported the first cases of H5N1, another dangerous strain, in nearly two years.


(Reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam, additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide in Paris; editing by Keiron Henderson)