Hundreds of soldiers were sent out to farms yesterday to slaughter chickens and ducks as South Korea raced to contain a highly contagious bird flu spreading throughout the country.
Authorities have culled hundreds of thousands of farm birds since its outbreak earlier this month, and marshaled more than 400 soldiers over the weekend to help slaughter and bury them. Another 300 soldiers were called to duty yesterday.
Authorities yesterday also confirmed new infections at farms as far as 230km from the site in central South Korea where the disease was first detected, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said in a statement. The new cases occurred in the southern towns of Gyeongju and Naju, where 1,230 birds died at two farms after being infected with the H5N1 virus.
Out of 17 farms with reported cases of bird flu, nine have so far been confirmed and two have tested negative. Authorities were still investigating six others.
Since the first outbreak, which killed 20,000 chickens at a farm in Umsung, some 70km south of Seoul, agriculture officials have culled 300,000 ducks and chickens as a precaution. They are also culling eggs in affected areas.
Authorities are still investigating whether the bird flu bug is the H5N1-97 strain that crossed from chickens to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, killing six people. Virus samples have been sent to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, for definitive testing, and results were expected to take a month.
A senior health official said Sunday that the flu is unlikely to be transmissible to humans since those exposed to the chickens have so far showed no signs of symptoms following the four- to five-day incubation period.
South Korean officials say the risk of transmission to humans is small because most strains of H5N1 can't cross over from birds to humans. Less severe bird flu outbreaks have hit South Korea peri-odically since 1996.
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