Bird flu virus spreads to Seoul

February 9, 2015
A member of a quarantine team sprays disinfectant into Jungnang Stream in Seoul, where an outbreak of the bird flu virus was confirmed, Sunday. (Yonhap)

A member of a quarantine team sprays disinfectant into Jungnang Stream in Seoul, where an outbreak of the bird flu virus was confirmed, Sunday. (Yonhap)

By Kim Se-jeong

New cases of avian influenza and foot-and-mouth diseases (FMD) were confirmed over the weekend despite increased quarantine efforts, stoking fears that the animal diseases could spread further.

Health officials in Seoul confirmed Saturday that they found the H5N8 bird flu virus strain in wild bird excrement collected from the Jungnang Stream in northeastern Seoul last week.

“This marks the first confirmed bird flu case in Seoul,” said an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Last month avian influenza was detected in a dog at a duck farm in Goseong, South Gyeongsang Province, which had reported an outbreak of the poultry disease.

After the bird flu case was confirmed in the capital, the city government immediately banned human access to the stream. The point where the excrement was collected is known for migratory birds and attracts many visitors.

“We banned bird viewing activities temporarily and the zoo and aviaries in the city were told to cover their bird cages,” the official said.

Avian flu is mainly contracted by exposure to infected birds, but the virus can also be carried through air.

The official said that the current outbreak has been caused by the H5N8 strain, which is harmless to people. But fear persists as the H7N9 strain can kill people, as it did in China in January. No case of human infection with bird flu has ever been reported in Korea.

Meanwhile, 10 pigs in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, and a cow in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, tested positive for FMD over the weekend. All had walking disabilities.

In Hongcheon, quarantine authorities culled 42 pigs, and more are expected to be put down as there are a lot of pig farms in close proximity. Hongcheon has the nation’s largest pig farm concentration. The town suffered from the same disease in 2011 when more than 50,000 pigs were killed.

FMD is highly infectious disease that affects cloven-hooved animals, such as cattle, pigs and sheep. Nobody in Korea has ever been reported as infected with FMD, and while transmission is possible it is extremely rare.

Between December last year and early February, more than 82,000 animals have been killed in connection with FMD; while more than 2.5 million poultry were put down since September last year.

The animal diseases have put the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs on high alert. The ministry said it will announce a special quarantine plan soon to bring the diseases under control as the Lunar New Year holiday is approaching which is a big travel season.

The ministry will introduce a new FMD vaccine. The ministry has come under criticism after pigs and cattle with vaccine shots were found to have contracted the virus. The existing vaccine was authorized by the ministry when it made vaccination mandatory for cattle and pigs.

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