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South Korea culls thousands of chickens

South Korea has started culling thousands of chickens after an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed to be the deadly H5N1 strain, officials said on Friday.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2008 03:54 IST

South Korea has started culling thousands of chickens after an outbreak of bird flu was confirmed to be the deadly H5N1 strain, officials said on Friday.

To determine the origin of the virus, officials were taking blood samples from the chickens, migratory birds and foreign workers at the infected farm in Gimje, 260 kilometres (162 miles) south of Seoul.

Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong suspended imports of uncooked chicken from South Korea but exports of cooked birds will not be affected, the agriculture ministry said.

The ministry said 270,000 chickens at five farms, the affected one and four others within a 500 metre radius, will be culled and buried along with all eggs in the area.

"The culling of chickens is underway," Kim Chang-Seob, chief veterinary officer of the ministry, told AFP.

The ministry has also imposed restrictions on the movement of chickens and ducks within a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius.

Kim noted that all outbreaks in the past occurred in the winter months from November to March but the current case erupted in early spring.

This makes health authorities suspect the virus might have been transmitted either by migrating birds or foreign workers who recently came from Mongolia, Vietnam and China where avian flu outbreaks have been reported, he said.

"The infected farm hires 11 foreign workers who came from Mongolia, Vietnam and China...we are taking their blood samples," Kim said.

About 2,400 chickens out of about 150,000 birds on the farm died between Saturday and Tuesday. The owner began reporting the deaths to health authorities on Monday.

Authorities immediately sealed off the location and barred any shipment of chickens or eggs to and from the farm, as well as to 12 other nearby farms.

The last time a virulent strain was reported in South Korea was in March 2007.

South Korea reported seven cases of infection by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu between November 2006 and March last year, resulting in the temporary suspension of poultry exports to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere.

But last June the World Organisation for Animal Health classified the country free from the disease.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 230 people worldwide since late 2003. No South Koreans have contracted the disease.

Experts fear the virus, which is usually spread directly from birds to humans, could mutate into a form easily transmissible between people and spark a deadly global pandemic.

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