Wild birds cause of avian flu: Gov’t

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Wild birds cause of avian flu: Gov’t

Migratory wild birds are mainly responsible for the severest outbreak of avian influenza (AI) to hit South Korea, the government said yesterday.

Seoul confirmed its first outbreak of the virulent H5N1 strain on Dec. 31 after some poultry farms reported sudden deaths of animals earlier in the month. It has since ordered the culling of more than 5.41 million birds to stop the spread of the contagious disease.

An analysis of the 40 confirmed cases of bird flu in the country showed contact with wild birds was the primary cause of AI cases, said Joo Yi-seok, head of the Animal Disease Control Bureau at the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service.

“Direct contact with infected wild birds and indirect contamination caused by people and vehicles stepping on bird droppings may have triggered 22 of the confirmed cases, with the rest being spread inadvertently by contaminated bird feed and rice husks used in coops,” the official said.

Quarantine officials had detected highly pathogenic avian influenza A viruses in wild birds since November, with the samples being almost identical to those found in migratory birds from neighboring Mongolia and China that spend the winter in the country, Joo said.

“Because these birds stay in the country until spring time, there is a chance that more AI outbreaks could be reported until April,” he said.

The only way to prevent the virus from affecting more farms is for people to take extra care about decontamination and to prevent wild birds from coming into contact with ducks, chickens, pheasants and quails, he said.

The latest outbreak is the fourth to hit the country, with previous cases reported in the winter months of 2003-04, 2006-07 and spring of 2008.

In the 2003-04 period, Seoul destroyed 5.28 million birds while in the subsequent outbreaks, 2.8 and 3.45 million birds were culled, respectively.

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