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Gov’t. confirms Buan cases as AI infection  

The government on Sunday confirmed that the birds from two duck farms in Buan, North Jeolla Province were infected with avian influenza virus.

There are now three duck farms with confirmed cases of avian influenza.

It has yet to be determined whether the latest confirmed cases were caused by a highly pathogenic strain of the virus, however.

“Only the H5 protein has been isolated, and as the N protein has yet to be verified it is still unknown whether (the strain) is highly pathogenic,” a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs official told the local media.

The first case was reported on Thursday on a farm raising ducks for breeding in Gochang, in the same province. The case in Gochang was confirmed to have been caused by the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain of the virus.

The discovery comes hours after the Agriculture Ministry issued a temporary standstill on the poultry industry in the Jeolla provinces.

The measure, which took effect at midnight Sunday, restricts the movement of poultry, industry workers and equipment for 48 hours.

“The standstill has been issued as suspected cases were reported from Buan after the confirmed case in Gochang, which is close to South Jeolla Province,” Agriculture Minister Lee Dong-phil said in a briefing on Sunday. He added that the measure was considered unavoidable if the latest outbreak of AI was to be contained.

Saying that the government was doing its best to eradicate the virus, the minister emphasized the safety of poultry products in circulation.

“The poultry found at AI-infected farms are strictly regulated, and have not been distributed on the market. I stress that the public can consume poultry products.”

According to Kwon Jae-han, director of livestock policy bureau at the Agriculture Ministry, the standstill is set to last only 48 hours and unlikely to be expanded across the country.

“(Expansion of the measure across the country) is limited to when a national outbreak is deemed likely. At present, it is considered that (AI) spreading across the country is unlikely,” Kwon said. He added that an order to slaughter the birds at the Buan farms has been issued.

He added that the standstill measure was not issued to the Chungcheong provinces, where ducks from the Gochang farm were distributed, as there is no risk of horizontal transmission.

The ministry, however, appeared to be unsure of the relationship between the confirmed AI cases and the death of migratory birds in the area.

On Friday a large number of Baikal teals were found dead in a reservoir located about halfway between the farms in Gochang and Buan. The Baikal teal is a migratory bird that winters in Korea and nearby countries.

The authorities have collected carcasses from the reservoir to determine the cause of their deaths.

While Kwon said that migratory birds’ feces are suspected to be the source of contagion, another ministry official indicated otherwise, citing a case from 2005. 

“About 50 dead birds were collected. About 200,000 birds came this year, and about 100 have died. In 2005, about 30,000 Baikal teal had died, and it was not AI. It is likely to be a similar case,” an Agriculture Ministry official in charge of treating animal diseases said.

Kwon rejected criticism that the ministry’s preventative measures have been lax, saying that farms were instructed to step up related measures.

Prior to the latest outbreak, Korea was hit by AI four times, most recently in 2011. At the time more than 3 million poultry were slaughtered.

In 2008, 3.45 million birds were slaughtered due to the virus, at a cost of around 32 billion won ($30 million).

By Choi He-suk