Dispute arises over where bird flu strain originated

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Dispute arises over where bird flu strain originated

In light of the recent outbreak of bird flu that has claimed the lives of nine people in China, it was claimed Korea had the same strain of deadly H7N9 flu virus here three years ago.

The Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency said yesterday the presence of H7N9 virus in the country was first reported in 2011.

“Three confirmed cases came from wild migratory bird waste while another case was confirmed from a spot-billed duck at a farm,” said Joo Eui-suk, head of the inspection team at the state-run agency.

The official said the detected virus did not cause any harm to the country’s farms, adding the agency took action promptly to prevent the virus from spreading, including burying ducks possibly infected with H7N9.

The quarantine agency reported the H7N9 finding to the GenBank in 2011, which collects all publicly available DNA sequences, based on which China has recently claimed its H7N9 virus now sweeping the mainland may have come from Korea.

The state-run agency rebuked the claim, saying the two viruses found in China and Korea are different. The National Institute of Environmental Research also stated it is not likely that migratory birds flew from Korea to areas near Shanghai in China given their usual migratory routes during the winter.

“When the outbreak of H5N1 influenza swept Hong Kong in 1997, Korea was wrongfully pointed as the origin of the disease,” said Prof. Kim Jae-hong of the veterinary school at Seoul National University. “Common practice for Korean scholars to report findings of the virus to GenBank is partly responsible for the recent controversy [over the origin of H7N9].”

The H5N1 virus was later confirmed to have originated from ducks in the Canton region of China.

Lee Youn-jeong, researcher at the quarantine agency, said based on reports of the genetic information of H7N9 by the Chinese government, it is highly possible that viruses from domesticated chickens and ducks as well as wild birds have combined to produce the so-called cocktail H7N9 virus.

If someone comes into contact with infected birds during a stay in China, the disease can be transmitted.

As the virus has a five-day-incubation period before showing infected symptoms, those who are in the first five days of infection will pass through a screening process at the airport.

A case of the H7N9 virus transported through yellow dust blowing from China has not been reported as of yet.

“The government should be cautious if the H7N9 virus appears in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, as migratory birds from there could transmit the virus to Korea during the summer,” said Mo Il-pil, professor of the veterinary school at Chungbuk National University in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

By Park Tae-kyun, Kang Chan-su [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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