Announcing the EU aid worth $100 million at a news conference in Brussels on Friday, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU external relations commissioner, said: "I am optimistic we are going to close the financial gap in Beijing."

The United Nations has said donors will need to contribute about $1.4 billion at a conference next week in Beijing to finance the next phase of the global campaign against bird flu.

The European Union funding comes after World Bank member states endorsed aid worth $500 million to tackle the virus.

Drug donation

Also on Friday, pharmaceutical company Roche, the maker of antiviral drug Tamiflu, said it was ready to donate more pills to Asia while aid organisations promised to speed the flow of funds to help the region battle bird flu.

The initiatives came at a meeting of Asian health officials, who wrapped up two days of discussions on Friday on ways to contain a potential pandemic, fears of which have been fanned by a spreading outbreak of avian influenza in Turkey.
   
Roche, whose Tamiflu is thought to be the best defence against the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu, said it was in talks with the World Health Organisation (WHO) about donating more of the drug to set up an Asian stockpile.
   
Globally, the H5N1 virus has infected 147 people, 78 of whom have died, according to the latest WHO tally.

Mutation 
   
Scientists say the H5N1 virus remains hard for people to catch and is spread almost always through contact with birds, but the rising number of human cases is raising the chances of it mutating into a form that could spread easily among humans
and kill millions. 
   
A British laboratory has found that two of the first Turkish victims were infected with a slightly mutated strain.

Although it did not seem to be more dangerous, the mutation in theory could help the virus pass more easily from chickens to humans.

Health officials at the Tokyo meeting, attended by more than 20 countries, called for greater surveillance and urged rich countries to help poorer ones achieve that aim.

In a summary of conclusions and recommendations, delegates also agreed on the need to help developing nations improve laboratory facilities and train health workers.

Culls

In Turkey, Mehdi Eker, the agriculture minister, said Turkey had culled almost 600,000 poultry across the country over the past two weeks. 

Iran has started culling thousands of birds along its border with Turkey to try to stop the disease spreading. 

France said it was extending its poultry confinement measures to 58 departments from an original 26 as fears grow over a virus believed to be carried by migratory birds.