AI infects chickens, spreads to adjacent regions

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AI infects chickens, spreads to adjacent regions

Despite the government’s all-out efforts to contain the spread of avian influenza (AI) found in ducks in North Jeolla, authorities confirmed yesterday that chickens at a poultry farm in South Chungcheong are infected.

Authorities culled 16,000 chickens from the farm in Buyeo County, South Chungcheong, and plan to eliminate 118,000 more at two farms located within a 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) radius as a preventive measure.

The government is closely monitoring the situation in the region because there are 339 farms raising more than 2.35 million chickens within a 10-kilometer radius of the infected farm.

“We decided to cull the chickens [at nearby farms] because the animals are known to spread the disease more quickly than other birds,” the ministry said in a statement yesterday, adding that it also will cull the chickens at farms in Gochang and Buan counties in North Jeolla.

Aggravating the situation, the feces of migratory birds at Sihwa Lake in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, were also found to contain the highly infectious H5N8 strain of avian influenza, authorities confirmed Saturday, stoking worries that Seoul and its surrounding areas in Gyeonggi may not be safe from the virus.

Officials banned leisure activities on the lake and dispatched workers to conduct sterilization procedures during the weekend in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

A confirmed case of migratory birds infected with AI in a Gyeonggi reservoir came a day after authorities said migratory birds found dead at the Geum River in Seocheon County, South Chungcheong, contained the virus, supporting the government’s assessment that migratory birds are spreading the virus.

“Preventive efforts should be made in areas along their migratory routes,” said Prime Minster Chung Hong-won yesterday at the Central Government Complex on Sejongno, central Seoul.

Yesterday’s confirmation of the virus in chickens put quarantine authorities on heightened alert as it signaled an extension of the potential impact of the disease.

Prior to Sunday, ducks at poultry farms, migratory ducks and wild geese were the only animals reported to have been infected with bird flu in the AI outbreak that came to light on Jan. 16.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also verified the avian influenza of ducks at a farm in Haenam County, South Jeolla, yesterday, two days after it received a report that suspected AI on the farm.

The ministry is also working to verify the infection of duck farms in Naju and Yeongam County in South Jeolla and in Cheonan, South Chungcheong.

Government officials also worry that the large movements of people during the Lunar New Year holidays from Thursday through Saturday could put a damper on all-out efforts to contain the spread of the disease.

“I ask you to pay particular attention on advising people not to visit poultry farms during the holiday period, while [we conduct] thorough sterilization efforts,” said the prime minister.

Since the first report of an avian influenza outbreak, a total of 488,000 ducks and chickens from 45 farms had been slaughtered as of Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, the government said.

In addition, more than 1.4 million chickens from 22 farms are expected to be culled in the coming days due to the confirmed case of the virus in chickens reported yesterday.

Because of the growing cases of AI outside of North Jeolla, where the first outbreak was reported Jan. 16, the government signaled it may again ban the movement of poultry farmers and their vehicles.

“The AI virus has now occurred in North and South Jeolla, as well as South Chungcheong. If it is deemed necessary to impose additional measures, [including the lockdown], we will take those steps,” said Lee Joon-won, deputy rural affairs minister, during a press briefing at the Sejong Government Complex yesterday.

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

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