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 reports of two new suspected cases of the virus.

A new suspected case of avian influenza (AI) was reported at a duck farm in Gochang, 300 kilometers southwest of Seoul in North Jeolla Province, and another at a duck farm in nearby Jeongeup.

They bring the total number of suspected and confirmed AI cases to 10.

Four of the cases have been confirmed through DNA tests that identified highly pathogenic H5N8 virus, with tests in the other six still under way.

The new suspected cases nipped earlier hopes that the virus may have been contained after the government noted a three-day cessation.

The ministry still insisted the two new suspected cases do not signal an all-out spread of the animal disease, emphasizing that the two affected farms are located very close to the one where the first case was confirmed last week.

"The farm in Jeongeup has been subject to daily inspection along with all other poultry farms located within a 3-kilometer radius of the farm that reported the first outbreak. Therefore, this does not mean that AI has spread to outside of the quarantine zone," it said in a statement.

As a precautionary measure, the government said it will destroy ducks at all poultry farms within 3 kilometers of the infected farms. The guideline up until now was 500 meters.

About 200,000 poultry have been slaughtered so far.

Chickens are currently not subject to culling as they have not been suspected with infection, but the government said it will immediately include all chickens upon discovery of the virus among them.

Efforts to contain the virus have 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 excrement 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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