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S. Korea on highest alert for foot-and-mouth outbreak

Govt ups quarantine measures as new type of foot-and-mouth disease confirmed

The South Korean government Thursday raised the country’s foot-and-mouth disease watch level to “serious,” the highest in the country’s disease control system, after two different virus strains were confirmed. 

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs issued a travel ban for all livestock in the country, while ordering tougher quarantine and sterilization measures. 

Eighty-six livestock markets across the nation will be closed while the ban is in place. It comes less than two days after a 30-hour standstill order was lifted. Officials could not tell Thursday when the new ban will be lifted.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Kim Kyung-gyu (Yonhap)
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Kim Kyung-gyu (Yonhap)
The move came after 10 cows in Yeoncheon County, about 60 kilometers north of Seoul, were found to have contracted the A-type strain of foot-and-mouth disease.  

Two previously confirmed cases -- there have been three confirmed cases so far -- involved the O-type virus.  

The ministry said this is the first time the country has reported outbreaks of different virus types at the same time.

Since 2000, seven out of eight confirmed foot-and-mouth cases in South Korea were the O-type. 

Seven types of viruses are known to cause the disease that mostly affects cloven-hooved livestock and wildlife. 

The ministry said it was conducting an epidemiological survey on routes taken by workers and cows infected by the new type. It will also send virus analyses of type O and type A to the World Organization for Animal Health for detailed inspections.

Some experts have suggested the A-type virus may have come from North Korea. 

Boars, elks and other wild animals in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas may be carrying the virus, they said.  

Whether the communist state has any foot-and-mouth disease cases is unknown. 

South Korean authorities had initially said the disease was unlikely to spread widely, as the virus extracted was one of three types the country has vaccinated against.

A government official said authorities are trying to quickly import vaccines for the O+A type which are in short supply. Currently, at least 2.8 million cows are in line for a shot.

“The last time we found the A-type strain of the disease was back in 2010, when the ministry was not conducting vaccinations for cows, so we do not have much information on that type at this moment,” said ministry official Kim Kyung-gyu.

“We have made an urgent request to a French institution for the O+A type vaccine,” he said, adding it would take at least a week to receive the supply.

On Wednesday, the government began a campaign to vaccinate 3.14 million cows across the country, with a budget of 5.34 billion won ($4.65 million).

Meanwhile, a cattle farm in Boeun County in North Chungcheong Province, where the first case was detected, reported another suspected case Thursday.

A quarantine staff cordons off the entrance to a native cattle farm in Guam-ri, North Chungcheong Province, Thursday, where a suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease was found. (Yonhap)
A quarantine staff cordons off the entrance to a native cattle farm in Guam-ri, North Chungcheong Province, Thursday, where a suspected case of foot-and-mouth disease was found. (Yonhap)
The disease reappeared in South Korea on Monday, less than a year after another outbreak. The next day, the second case was confirmed. 

The series of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks comes at a time as South Korea is scrambling to put an end to a major bird flu outbreak that has led to the culling of more than 30 million chickens and ducks since November.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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