Districts close hunting areas after cats with avian flu die

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Districts close hunting areas after cats with avian flu die

Since two cats found dead in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, last week tested positive for H5N6 avian influenza, regional governments have been closing hunting preserves to stop the virus from spreading in the wild.

A total of 11 cities and districts of the 19 areas that operate hunting preserves have shut them. Another eight preserves are operating, but officials have banned duck hunters in the area.

The government also has sterilized farms and ponds within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the areas where the two cats were found dead. Government officials confirmed the cats tested positive for AI on Saturday and said there is a rare chance of the virus spreading to humans. Officials said they are heavily sterilizing zoos across the country, many of them shut due to AI.

“There is a low possibility but still a chance of AI spreading to mammals accidently but there is a rare chance of mammals spreading the virus to other mammals as far as research shows, suggesting there is a low chance of the virus being spread to [humans],” an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Monday. “We are still investigating how those cats became infected, but we don’t plan to cull stray cats at this moment since it can be a violation to animal protection laws because not every single one of them was found positive of the virus.”

The Agriculture Ministry also said 12 people who were in contact with infected cats had no signs of the virus.

Meanwhile, 29.98 million birds have been slaughtered as of Monday, 49 days after the virus started to spread in the country. Slaughtered birds account for 18 percent of the total birds in the country. The damage has exceeded that of 2014 by far. From 2014 to 2015, or during the 517 days when the virus hit the country, 19.4 million birds were killed due to AI.

By type, layer chickens were affected the most by the virus this time. Nearly 22.45 million birds that were killed were layer chickens, which is about 32.1 percent of the total.

The Agriculture Ministry said the number of reports of suspected AI has dropped, but it will continue to monitor the spread of the virus.

These were the first cases of cats infected with bird flu, but in March 2014, a dog found in a duck farm had an antibody reaction to the virus. Almost a year later, another canine showed both antigen and antibody reactions to the virus. Both dogs were killed.

BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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