North Korea confirms avian flu outbreak in poultry

Mar 28, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – North Korea yesterday confirmed recent reports of an avian influenza outbreak among poultry, but officials did not specify whether it involved the H5N1 virus, which has struck nine other Asian countries in the past 16 months.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the outbreak had led to the killing and burial of hundreds of thousands of chickens on two or three farms in Pyongyang, the capital, according to news services.

The statement did not say which strain of avian flu was involved, according to Associated Press (AP) and Reuters reports. Officials said no human cases had been discovered. Only Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia have had human cases of the illness since it began spreading in late 2003.

South Korea had a number of H5N1 avian flu outbreaks in the winter of 2003-2004, but no outbreaks had been reported in North Korea until about 2 weeks ago. That was when South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported an outbreak in Pyongyang, saying the information had come from a South Korean businessman who met North Korean officials in Beijing. The North Korean government initially denied the report.

The AP quoted the KCNA report yesterday as saying, "A dynamic work is now under way in different parts of the country to combat bird flu that plagues the world."

South Korean government officials yesterday offered to help North Korea prevent the spread of avian flu, according to a report today in the Korea Herald, a South Korean newspaper. The government called an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the possibility of holding talks with North Korea on technology and tools to fight the disease, the story said.

The report also said the South Korean government would step up efforts to keep avian flu from spreading from the north. Plans called for banning poultry products from North Korea and disinfecting vehicles coming from there.

When reports of the North Korean outbreak first surfaced, a South Korean company immediately canceled plans to import 40 tons of chicken from the North, the Herald story said.

The AP story said the outbreak is a blow to the food supply of a nation that already suffers from food shortages and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.

Two days ago, the United Nations' World Food Program launched a new appeal for food gifts to the secretive communist country, the AP reported. The agency said a lack of supplies was forcing it to cut aid to children and the elderly.

In other developments, Cambodian officials said a suspected human case of avian flu had been ruled out in a village where another person had died of the illness last week, according to a Mar 26 Agence France-Presse report.

The story said Hon Sopheap, 18, had tested negative for the H5N1 virus. He is from the village of Keatha Vong Leu, near the Vietnamese border, which was also the home of Meas Ran, 28, who died of avian flu last week. He was Cambodia's second human victim.

The same story said 2 of 31 poultry in the village had tested positive for the virus. But Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said the poultry outbreak had been contained after the culling of 139 chickens and ducks.

Unofficially, 74 human cases of avian flu, including 49 deaths, have occurred in Asia since late 2003. Those include 55 cases with 35 deaths in Vietnam, 17 cases with 12 deaths in Thailand, and 2 fatal cases in Cambodia.

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