Lee: More work needed to fight virus

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Lee: More work needed to fight virus

President Lee Myung-bak held an emergency meeting with ministers at the Blue House yesterday to discuss how to put a halt to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which has continued its spread across the country.

“With the number of overseas travelers to Korea at about 15 million and 8 million out of Korea [every year], it is difficult to curb the spread of the disease by enforcing quarantine measures only,” Lee said.

“We need to take more fundamental measures,” he added, suggesting buying more vaccines.

Lee said at the meeting that Korea needs measures to protect the country against FMD from China or Vietnam, where cases have been confirmed every year.

The president also raised concerns about the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday in February.

“There will be a large number of people traveling during the holiday, including families heading to their hometowns,” Lee said. “In preparation for this, we need an elaborate series of plans.”

Since the first case was confirmed in Andong, North Gyeongsang, the highly contagious virus, which is often fatal to livestock, has spread to all areas of the country except North and South Jeolla, South Gyeongsang and Jeju Island. Roughly 1 million animals have been slaughtered as of yesterday, health authorities said, in an effort to prevent the continued spread of the disease.

Analysts said health authorities failed to block the virus from spreading from the origin in Andong.

The virus was confined to North Gyeongsang until Dec.14, when hogs at two farms in Yeoncheon and Yangju in northern Gyeonggi were confirmed to be infected.

The National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service tentatively concluded yesterday that a manure truck brought the disease from Andong to the Gyeonggi area.

“We confirmed that a manure research company, located near the epicenter in Andong, brought three or four 500-kilogram (1,100 pounds) bags of manure to Paju, Gyeonggi, to conduct an experiment,” said Kim Byeong-han, director for the service’s Veterinary Epidemiology Division.

Lee Joong-bok, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Konkuk University, said, “The reason for the disease’s wide spread is that Korean farmhouses are located all around the country, and manure trucks, which play a role as FMD carrier, visit farms one after another.”

But other factors might be at play.

“The outbreaks in Pyeongchang and Hoengseong in Gangwon could have been caused because animal feed produced in a factory in Yangju, Gyeonggi, was delivered to farms in Gangwon,” Lee said. “Cases found in Icheon, Yeoju, Yongin and Goesan in Gyeonggi might have been spread by people.”

Experts also said foreign workers, especially those who return from visits to their homelands in Southeast Asia, could bring in the disease. Cold weather is also a factor because the virus survives longer in low temperatures, analysts said.

By Park Tae-kyun, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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