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South Korea Takes Steps to Control Avian Flu Outbreak


South Korean quarantine officials are scrambling to control an outbreak of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu in one of the country's biggest poultry producing areas, cordoning off infected farms and slaughtering thousands of birds. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korea stepped up quarantine measures at an area around a farm in Iksan, about 230 kilometers south of Seoul.

Health officials began slaughtering and burying 236,000 birds within a 500-meter radius of the outbreak site.

Investigators confirmed Saturday that the virulent strain of avian flu known as H5N1 was responsible for the sudden deaths of more than 6,000 chickens at the farm just days earlier. A further 6,000 birds were culled immediately.

As the Chief Veterinary Officer at South Korea's Agriculture Ministry, Kim Chang-seob heads up Seoul's efforts to prevent avian flu. He says an area 10 kilometers around the infected farm has been quarantined and strict restrictions imposed on the movement of livestock.

Kim says South Korea is not enacting any new policies to deal with the Iksan infection, since the government is already on very high alert against bird flu during this season. He says health authorities here will focus their efforts on stopping the spread of the infection, and finding any other infections that may have occurred.

This is the first incidence of H5N1 in South Korea since 2003.

The World Health Organization says that strain has infected 258 people in 10 countries during the past three years, killing 153 of them. WHO researchers say most, if not all, of the infections were passed from poultry to humans, and usually involved people working in close contact with live birds.

WHO authorities fear the H5N1 strain may mutate into a virus that can be transmitted from human to human.

Kim says it will still take time to confirm the source of the Iksan outbreak.

He says possible sources include migratory birds, tourist traffic, or smuggling of livestock and produce from abroad.

South Korean authorities say there is very little risk to humans from a second infected farm in Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul. About 200 chickens died there this week from what experts call a mild form of influenza.

Health officials say people should not panic, and emphasize that even infected chickens are safe to consume if they are thoroughly cooked.

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