|Quarantine officials cull ducks which are infected with a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu in Gochang-gun, North Jeolla Province, Friday. (Yonhap News)|
Quarantine officials confirmed an outbreak of avian influenza at a local poultry farm located some 300 kilometers south of Seoul on Friday. It is the first case of a bird flu in two years and eight months confirmed by authorities here.
Quarantine authorities ordered a culling of more than 20,000 ducks in Gochang-gun, North Jeolla Province, as the waterfowl were detect to be infected with a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza. Officials said they have begun investigating the causes of the outbreak.
“It’s uncertain yet but it’s assumed to be excreta of a flock of birds, which were reported to have flown over the farm on Jan. 6,” said a quarantine official.
The case was reported on Thursday when some ducks showed a sharp drop in spawning rate, which is one of the common symptoms of bird flu, officials said.
North Jeolla Provincial Government restricted access to the affected farm and surrounding areas. It also ordered quarantine officers to take preventive measures immediately.
The highly pathogenic bird flu is classified as a contagious animal disease Type I due to its quick infectiousness and high mortality rate.
Once confirmed as the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza, poultry within a 500-meter radius are culled and those in a 3-kilometer radius are banned from transportation.
Currently, more than 3 million poultry are raised in the area around the problematic farm.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, a total of 24 farms and one slaughterhouse purchased poultry from the farm in question, totaling about 173,000 ducks. Most were sent to North Chungcheong Province and to two farms in Gyeonggi Province over the last three weeks, it added.
The ministry dispatched special management teams to those farms and took initial quarantine measures. All access is restricted and the slaughterhouse is currently shut down.
A total of 23 cases of bird flu were reported in North Jeolla Province from 2006, with estimated damages of 110 billion won ($104 million).
The government put efforts in preventing avian influenza by setting an 8-month special period for preventing bird flu between October 2013 and May this year. The quarantine office of North Jeolla Province also carried out a bird flu test at about 200 farms ahead of migratory birds’ move last year. No poultry were found positive then.
The last outbreak of bird flu was reported in early 2011, which led to the culling of at least 3 million poultry.
South Korea is about to lose its international bird flu-free status for the second time, which it regained in September 2011. The status, which is recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health, is only acquired when no cases of bird flu are found for more than three months and no suspicious cases are reported after quarantine measures are fully taken. The international body is a reference organ by the World Trade Organization.
By Lee Hyun-jeong