S. Korea continues to fight bird flu amid new suspected outbreak

SEJONG, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea continued its efforts to prevent the spread of bird flu Tuesday amid the discovery of a new suspected case of the virus.

With the latest suspected case of avian influenza (AI) at a duck farm in Gochang, 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul in North Jeolla Province, the total number of suspected and confirmed AI cases came to nine.

Four of the cases have been confirmed through DNA tests that identified the highly pathogenic strain of the H5N8 virus.

The new case was reported shortly after the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs noted a three-day cessation in new cases, raising hopes that the virus may have been contained.

About 200,000 poultry have been slaughtered at the affected farms and others within potential infection range since last week.

Efforts to contain the animal disease included a temporary lockdown at all poultry farms in North and South Jeolla provinces where the affected farms are located.

The lockdown was lifted after 48 hours as the government apparently sought to reserve such a measure as a last resort. Under the current law, the lockdown can be extended only once for 48 hours.

The highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was found in a group of migratory ducks found dead last week at a reservoir near the affected farms, possibly indicating the source of the animal disease and the difficulties in trying to contain it.

"The most important point in our quarantine efforts is to prevent the flow of any source of infection, such as excrements of migratory birds, into poultry farms," Kwon Jae-han, the ministry official in charge of livestock policy, told a press briefing.

The AI virus has an incubation period of up to three weeks.

"This means avian influenza could break out at any time throughout the winter season when the disease is most rampant," he said.

The country has reported four outbreaks of bird flu since 2003. The most recent outbreak in 2010-11 led to the culling of over 6 million animals, causing over 80 billion won (US$75 million) in damages, according to the ministry.

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