South Korea raises H5N1 culling target to 5.3 million

Apr 21, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – To stem quickly spreading H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks that have hit South Korea over the past few weeks, agriculture ministry officials said today as many as 5.32 million birds would be culled, the largest such operation in the country's history of battling the disease.

Jin Pil-sik, an agriculture ministry official, said 4.85 million birds have already been slaughtered, according to a report today from the Associated Press (AP). By tomorrow, another 477,000 birds will be culled near the latest outbreak site in North Jeolla province, Lee Sung-jae, a provincial quarantine official, told the AP.

In early April the H5N1 virus returned to South Korea after about a year with no reported outbreaks. The virus first hit an egg producer in Gimje in North Jeolla province and quickly spread to several more farms, mostly in the southwestern part of the country.

South Korea's agriculture ministry said the H5 strain has been confirmed at 26 farms, but did not say how many were the H5N1 subtype, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. As of Apr 15, the date of the country's last update on the outbreaks to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), South Korea had reported 11 outbreaks, though it was not clear if the subtype had been confirmed for all of them.

In other developments, officials today announced the launch of an 11-day operation to test birds at duck farms across the country, AFP reported. Kim Chang Sup, an agriculture ministry official, told AFP that the testing program will include all 80 breeding duck farms and a selection of other representative sites across the nation.

Also, quarantine authorities have been culling poultry at 141 restaurants or farms that were visited by a dealer who reportedly took hundreds of ducks from an infected farm in Gimje, according to the AFP report.

South Korea has never reported any human H5N1 cases or deaths, but in September 2006 health officials said five workers who helped cull poultry during outbreaks in 2003 had antibodies to the H5N1 virus but had never had symptoms. The 2006 report brought the total number of South Korean poultry workers who tested positive for H5N1 antibodies to nine. Tests on the workers' samples were done at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See also:

Sep 21, 2006, CIDRAP news story "Five Koreans had H5N1 virus but no illness"

Apr 15 OIE report on South Korea's H5N1 outbreaks

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