South Korean quarantine officials yesterday began slaughtering more than 230,000 poultry after an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu at a chicken farm, the agriculture ministry said.
A total of 236,000 poultry within a 500m radius of the outbreak site in Iksan, about 250km south of Seoul, will be slaughtered to keep the virus from spreading, ministry official Kim Chang-sup said.
Iksan is a hub of the country's poultry industry. Health officials, backed by police and soldiers, cordoned off a 10km radius around the outbreak site.
"We have increased quarantine activity, maintaining tight restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles there to stop the virus from spreading," spokesman Yoon Yong-do said.
Blood tests on affected birds showed the virus was the H5N1 strain, he said.
"Some 236,000 chickens within a 500 meter radius of the affected farm are being culled and buried," Yoon said, adding that ducks, pigs and dogs were also slaughtered.
He said Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Park Hong-soo chaired an emergency meeting yesterday and called for comprehensive action to tackle the outbreak in the southern city.
"We are closely monitoring the area as there are about 5 million chickens in a 10 kilometer quarantine zone, which also includes Halim," Yoon said.
Halim, the country's top chicken meat processor, supplies 20 to 25 percent of domestic needs and also exports cooked chicken to Japan and other countries.
Japan has already suspended South Korean poultry imports and started requiring people arriving from the country to disinfect their shoes.
"Blood tests on people in the area showed no one has been affected by the virus," Oh Dae-kyu, head of the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service, told reporters.
The outbreak occurred last week, resulting in the deaths of 6,700 infected chickens. Another 6,300 were culled.
South Korea killed 5.3 million birds during the last known outbreak of bird flu in 2003.
The H5N1 virus began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003 and has killed at least 153 people worldwide.
So far, the disease remains hard for people to catch and most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds. Nine South Koreans were infected by the virus while helping slaughter 5.3 million ducks and chickens from December 2003 to March 2004, but they showed no symptoms of the disease as defined by the WHO.
Also last week, a low-grade strain of bird flu killed 200 chickens in a separate outbreak south of Seoul.
The Agriculture Ministry said it was not the H5N1 strain.
The WHO has warned that it could take years to eliminate the H5N1 virus. Experts say avian flu has entrenched itself in much of Asia and is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.