Researchers in Hong Kong said Wednesday they have developed a new test that can detect bird flu (search) in humans within hours, compared with up to a week or more for older versions.

Early diagnosis is crucial to controlling bird flu outbreaks, and the new test makes that possible by producing results in one or two hours, the project's patron, the Li Ka Shing Foundation, said in a statement.

The old tests take so long that infected people may be dead before results are available, said Guan Yi, a Hong Kong-based researcher who worked on the new version.

He said the pricing for the new test hasn't been decided, but that it would be "much cheaper" than older ones.

The new test detects antigens and antibodies to the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, as opposed to examining the virus directly by isolating it.

Bird flu has killed 32 people in Thailand and Vietnam, and millions of chickens across Asia this year. The World Health Organization has warned it could combine with a human virus and spawn the next flu pandemic, killing millions.

The new diagnostic kits are straightforward enough to be used by non-specialists on the scene of an outbreak, the statement said.