AI at Seoul’s doorstep but unlikely to spread further

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AI at Seoul’s doorstep but unlikely to spread further

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An official at Seongdong District sterilizes the area where a dead horned grebe infected with the AI virus was found on Sunday. [YONHAP]

The Korean government is keeping a close eye on the H5N6 avian influenza virus after a small water bird known as the horned grebe, found dead in Seoul on Jan. 30, was confirmed to be affected by the virus on Saturday.

This is the first time in two years that the virus has spread to the capital, according to the government. City officials have shut down the trails in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, where the dead bird was found, and sterilized the area to prevent the virus from spreading. There are no large chicken farms in the Seoul metropolitan area and reported cases of the virus overall have dropped compared to the end of last year.

“When H5N8-type AI was reported in Seoul back in 2015, it didn’t spread farther,” said an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “We don’t think the virus will spread to other areas considering the characteristics of Seoul, where there are barely any chicken farms.”

The government has confirmed that there are no chicken farms within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of where the bird was found.

However, the government also reported that there are some 870 birds in Seoul, including those living in zoos and raised by homes and schools.

The government has confirmed that no one has been infected with the virus from contact with infected birds.

“There is a low possibility but still a chance of AI spreading to mammals accidently,” said an official at the Agriculture Ministry. “But there is a rare chance of mammals spreading the virus to other mammals as far as the research shows, suggesting there is a low chance of the virus being spread to humans.”

In China, 17 people were infected with H5N6-type AI virus, 10 of whom died. Those who were affected worked at farms raising birds.

Meanwhile, Japanese media outlets said AI cases were reported in the country’s Kyushu Prefecture. According to media reports, including those from NHK, officials investigated the death of 52 chickens, which died within two days, at a farm there and found they were all infected with AI.

The Japanese government has killed a total of 69,000 chickens from two farms found to be affected and threw away a total of 683,000 eggs from such farms. As of Sunday, 10 cases of AI were confirmed in seven prefectures in Japan.

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

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