S Korea battles spread of foot-and-mouth and bird flu

SOUTH Korea reported seven new cases of foot-and-mouth disease as the country battles its worst outbreak of the highly contagious virus and its first avian influenza outbreak in more than two years.

The agriculture ministry confirmed seven cases of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle and pig farms at five cities across the country, bringing the total number of cases to 74 since November 29.

“We’re waiting for lab results for three more suspected cases … the situation is quite hectic at the moment,” a ministry official at the emergency task force center said.

More than 660,000 cattle, pigs and other cloven-hoofed animals have been or will be soon slaughtered in the country’s worst outbreak of the disease, with related losses estimated at more than 400 billion won ($350 million).

“The number of animals (affected by the outbreak) constantly keeps rising … it’s hard for us to keep up,” the ministry spokeswoman said.

About 160,000 animals were killed during the previous worst outbreak in 2002.

In a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the disease, the government since December 25 has vaccinated some 450,000 cattle – risking a longer export ban by overseas buyers.

It takes longer for a country that uses vaccinations to regain disease-free status from the World Organisation for Animal Health than when the disease is curbed solely by culling.

Previous outbreaks in January and April last year cost more than 250 billion won with nearly 50,000 animals slaughtered.

The disease affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, pigs, deer, goats and sheep.

The army has deployed nearly 40,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment, including excavators, to contain the disease while health officials are also busy curtailing the spread of bird flu.

South Korea on Friday confirmed the first outbreak of bird flu since May 2008 and more than 100,000 birds have been slaughtered as authorities try to contain its spread.

Health authorities have stepped up inspections of wild birds and urged poultry businesses to take extra precautions such as erecting nets around their farms to keep wild birds out.

South Korea has been hit by avian influenza three times, with the last outbreak in April 2008.

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