(South China Morning Post) – South Korea and Japan have stepped up mass culls of poultry stocks to contain a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza amid fears of a regional outbreak.
Seoul has ordered the gassing of 20 million birds since the first case of the H5N6 virus was reported on November 18, and there have been outbreaks in Japan and three confirmed cases in mainland China in the last two months.
Hong Kong late Monday confirmed its first human bird flu infection of the season: an elderly man who had recently travelled to mainland China who was diagnosed with the deadly H7N9 virus strain.
The South Korean Agriculture Ministry has called the outbreak of the highly contagious H5N6 strain of bird flu more severe than the H5N8 strain that spread across the country in 2014 and 2015 before being brought under control.
“The number of culled birds is rising very quickly,” second vice finance minister, Song Eon-seok said on Monday.
“It’s grown in a short amount of time and we are very worried.”
The ministry said H5N8 was also discovered this month in the feces of migratory birds but has not been seen at poultry farms.
This is the first time two types of avian flu virus have spread here together, posing a greater burden on quarantine authorities’ efforts to contain the epidemic.
“We are not ruling out the possibility that the H5N8 strain had remained dormant since the outbreak two years ago and was recently rediscovered,” an official said.
The epidemic has hit a zoo as well.
According to Seoul Metropolitan Government that runs Seoul Zoo in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, an H5 virus was detected in two dead storks and five mandarin ducks there. It is not known yet whether it is H5N6 or H5N8.
This was the first bird flu outbreak inside the zoo. The zoo has been closed since Saturday after the storks died.
In Japan, authorities on the northern island of Hokkaido said at the weekend that about 210,000 chickens were culled after bird flu was discovered at a poultry farm in the town of Shimizu. It is the fifth reported outbreak in the country since the end of November. Nearly 800,000 chickens have been culled since then.
The H5 strain was also found in chickens at a farm in the town of Kawaminami in southwestern Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture.
Authorities have also banned the transport of poultry and poultry products in areas close to the affected farms, while sterilizing main roads leading to them.
Official delegations from Japan, South Korea and China gathered in Beijing last week for a symposium on preventing and controlling bird flu and other diseases in East Asia, according to the website of China’s ministry of agriculture.
China now has bans in place on poultry imports from more than 60 countries, including South Korea and Japan.
The bird flu outbreaks in Japan are the first in nearly two years. The Hong Kong food safety authority said on Monday that it had banned the import of poultry meat and products (including poultry eggs) from Japan’s Hokkaido.
Parts of Europe and Israel have also been hit by the H5N8 virus. About 30,000 turkeys and ducks were culled in Germany over the weekend while France has widened high-risk restrictions to the entire country after the detection of several cases of the H5N8 strain.
Top: Acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-ahn listens to a quarantine official during a visit to a poultry farm in Icheon, east of Seoul, South Korea. Photo: EPA via South China Morning Post
SOURCE: South China Morning Post from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Korea Times, Xinhua