A 5-year-old boy initially thought to have pneumonia died of bird flu, the government said Friday.

The boy died of the same strain of the virus that has killed at least 69 other people in Asia and millions of birds worldwide, the health ministry said. The World Health Organization has not yet confirmed the death.

The fear is the strain, H5N1, will acquire the ability to spread easily from person to person, leading to a global pandemic. But so far nearly all the victims caught the virus from close contact with sick birds.

That appeared to be the boy's case as well.

Public health officials said he lived next door to an uncle who raised chickens and that some of them had recently died.

The boy came from the Ongkarak district of Nakhon Nayok province, 45 miles northeast of Bangkok. He had been ill since Nov. 25.

At first doctors suspected pneumonia. They only began to treat him for bird flu on Wednesday, hours before he died.

Health Minister Phinij Jarusombat said doctors were not initially aware of his contact with chickens.

On Friday authorities killed hundreds of chickens in the area where the boy lived.

The boy brought to 22 the number of people sickened by the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Thailand. Fourteen have died.