FAO says avian flu in North Korea is contained

Apr 25, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The recent outbreak of H7 avian influenza in North Korea has been contained, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

The outbreak at three farms near Pyongyang, the capital, was first reported in March. It involves a different strain from the H5N1 virus that has affected nine other Asian countries and killed more than 50 people in the past 16 months.

"The virus appears to have been eliminated from the three infected farms by combining culling of around 218,000 infected chickens, vaccination of unaffected birds in unaffected poultry houses and strict biosecurity measures," FAO consultant Les Sims stated in a news release. Sims traveled to Pyongyang to advise North Korean veterinary authorities on avian flu control.

Previously the FAO had said the North Korean outbreak marked the first appearance of an H7 virus in Asia. Today's statement did not say whether the neuraminidase subtype (N number) of the virus has been identified. Previous reports said samples of the virus had been sent to laboratories in China, the United Kingdom, and Australia for analysis.

The FAO said North Korea "acted promptly and appropriately and provided essential information in a timely manner," including a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The FAO sent three experts to the country to help with diagnosis and disease management.

The agency said it has urged the North Koreans to continue avian flu surveillance throughout the country. "Reagents and laboratory tools provided by FAO will assist in continuing the battle against the virus, but additional strengthening of veterinary diagnostic and surveillance capacity is seen as a priority to ensure that this work is completed," said Joseph Domenech, the FAO's chief veterinary officer.

Word of the outbreak first surfaced in mid-March, but the government didn't confirm the report until Mar 27. No human cases have been reported.

North Korea has had no reported outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu. South Korea had outbreaks on a total of 19 farms in late 2003 and early 2004 but had no human cases.

The North Korean outbreak prompted the first meeting between North Korean and South Korean officials since July 2004, according to an Apr 22 report in the South Korean newspaper the Korea Times.

A delegation of South Korean officials traveled to the North Korean border city of Kaesong Apr 22 to discuss collaboration to battle the outbreak, the newspaper reported. The meeting followed a South Korean offer to help North Korea deal with the virus. South Korea agreed to send about $713,000 worth of quarantine equipment to North Korea, the story said.

The newspaper said relations between the two Koreas have been strained ever since South Korea airlifted 460 North Korean refugees out of Vietnam 9 months ago.

See also:

FAO statement

Apr 5 CIDRAP News story "North Korea has Asia's first outbreak of H7 avian flu"

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