Officials fear bird migration routes may spread virus

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Officials fear bird migration routes may spread virus

Officials are scrambling to keep track of the movement of large flocks of birds following the government’s confirmation on Monday that avian influenza (AI) killed Baikal Teal ducks at a reservoir in Gochang County. The officials worry their migratory route could spread the disease beyond authorities’ control.

The JoongAng Ilbo’s report that more than 150,000 Baikal Teals at Dongnim Reservoir in Gochang vanished on Monday night has confounded officials as they try to prevent additional outbreaks.

These migratory birds are known to move during the night in search of food, adding to the difficulties the authorities face in tracking the flocks.

“On Monday, more than 200,000 birds were seen at Dongnim Reservoir,” said Lee Jong-cheol, head of the Gochang Migratory Birds Association, a private environmental group.

“But overnight, that number shrank to just 50,000.”

Lee added that he believes the ducks flew south during the night to find new food sources.

The strain of H5N8 found in the birds at the Gochang reservoir is the same strain that killed ducks at farms in Gochang, according to authorities.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the H5N8 virus has no history of infecting humans.

The Ministry of Environment stated that as of Monday, there were 480,000 Baikal Teals in the country, 250,000 of which it said were near Donglim Reservoir.

Given the proximity of Dongnim Reservoir - where about a thousand wild Baikal Teals were found dead last week - authorities suspect it was likely that these ducks spread the virus to farms nearby.

Baikal Teal ducks are known to migrate south to Korea around November every year from Siberia to spend the winter here.

After settling near the Geum River in South Chungcheong, the Dongnim Reservoir in North Jeolla and other southern parts of the country, they migrate back to Russia in the spring.

If the disease spreads along the birds’ migratory route, it could mean efforts by the government to contain AI over the past few days may have been in vain.

Since the first H5N8 outbreak last Thursday, the authorities have worked frantically to contain the spread of the virus and instituted an unprecedented 48-hour ban on the movement of poultry farmers and their vehicles over the weekend in the Jeolla region.

Meanwhile, the government yesterday uncovered two new potential cases of the virus on a farm in Jeongeup and Gochang, putting the authorities on high alert.

Should the outbreaks be confirmed, it would signify the geographical expansion of the virus.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said yesterday that it found signs of the disease while conducting sterilization efforts.

It is now examining ducks at relevant farms to determine the infection.


BY KANG CHAN-SOO, KANG JIN-KYU [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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