South Korean gov't scrambling to find preventive measures for new FMD outbreak

21:33, April 12, 2010      

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Shortly after declaring itself " clear" of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) on March 23, South Korea is yet again battling the animal disease that was found to have contaminated a local cattle farm last Friday.

It took less than three weeks for the FMD to resurface in South Korea, which in January had affected the country for the first time in eight years, and the country is scrambling again to contain further spread of the highly-contagious disease that mainly affect cloven-hoofed animals including pigs, cattle, and goats.

NEW OUTBREAK CONFIRMED LAST WEEK

A new outbreak of the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was confirmed in a cattle farm west of Seoul Friday, where 10 out of the 180 "hanwoo" or Korean beef cattle had shown blisters on the mouth and teats, causing quarantine officials to cull livestock within a 500 meter radius of the cattle farm in order to prevent further spread of the disease, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said.

According to the ministry, animals on the farm on Ganghwa Island, 58 km west of Seoul, started showing signs of the FMD symptoms on Thursday. Quarantine officials immediately took precautionary measures by closing off the farm and limiting movement of people and vehicles in the area.

The ministry said that they are still investigating the exact cause of the outbreak.

The owner of the farm had recently made a visit to a region in neighboring country that reported a FMD outbreak last week.

Quarantine officials also started culling cloven-hoofed animals near the contaminated cattle farm on Friday, where some 2,500 heads of cloven-hoofed livestock, including 2,200 pigs within a 500-meter radius of the cattle farm, were culled to prevent further outbreaks of the disease.

However, by Saturday the ministry expanded the culling area to a 3 km radius of the affected farm as preventive measures, and raised its four-level animal disease alert status from the "blue" level to the second-highest "orange" level.

So far, five cases of the FMD have been confirmed since Friday, according to the farm ministry, as it said more than 26,000 animals at 211 farms around the affected area will be culled to contain the disease from spreading to other regions.

RECURRING OUTBREAKS OF FMD

The new outbreak of the FMD was all the more surprising as it happened just 16 days after South Korea declared itself "clear" of the disease.

South Korea saw the first outbreak of the FMD in eight years on Jan. 7 in Pocheon, 45 km north of Seoul, which lasted for 81 days, resulting in approximately 5,956 animals culled at a cost of 42.5 billion won (37.9 million U.S. dollars).

The South Korean government declared that it got rid of the disease on March 23, after no cases of the FMD were confirmed since Jan. 30. It added if no additional outbreaks were to be found by mid-June, it would apply for the status as an FMD-free country with the World Organization for Animal Health to initiate discussions with dairy importers including China and Japan.

"In principle, resuming exports would be possible after we regain the FMD-free status in September, but the government would make efforts with other countries concerned to reopen exports as soon as possible," a farm ministry official told reporters in March.

However, the new outbreak of the FMD is expected to slow the process and raise concerns about a fall in dairy exports.

"The size of loss of the new FMD outbreak is five times worse than the January's case--and livestock farmers (on Ganghwa Island) are at a loss over the damage it will cost them," local media Joongang Ilbo said.

GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE

The South Korean government urged Monday local livestock farmers to abstain from visiting countries that have been hit by the foot-and-mouth disease in order to prevent the further spread of the highly-contagious disease.

Since the recent outbreak of the FMD is highly-suspected of coming from a farmer visiting a region in a neighboring country that reportedly has been affected by the animal disease, the farm ministry said the best way to stem further spread of the virus in the country is to block people in the livestock industry from traveling to "high-risk" areas.

"The foot-and-mouth disease can quickly spread through clothing, shoes, and products people carry, and the virus could remain there for as long as 14 weeks," the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry added it will impose penalties for people who ignore such measures by not paying compensation for animals culled and withholding other state-supported benefits, in case the disease is found in the future.

Also, it will keep track of livestock farmers who make visits to countries with reported foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks by working with the Ministry of Justice and the Korea Immigration Service, and they will establish a text message service to provide up-to-date information on all recent foreign outbreaks of the disease to local farmers, the farm ministry added.

However, local media slammed the government's response as being overly confident and slow, adding it was a rash conclusion to declare itself "clear" of the FMD virus last month.

"There's no cure to the FMD. It's a highly-contagious disease, so it requires intensive quarantine and preventive measures. The government was careless in its response when the outbreak in Pocheon was declared clear," Joongang Ilbo said in an editorial.

Meanwhile, the ministry said the latest outbreak comes from an "O-type" virus that caused the outbreak to occur in the country in 2000 and 2002, rather than the "A-type" that was found in the country earlier this year, hinting it is not an extension from the previous disease.

South Korea was hit by the disease twice in 2000 and 2002, with losses amounting to 300.6 billion won (269.8 million U.S. dollars) and 143.4 billion won (128.7 million U.S. dollars), respectively.

"It was negligent for South Korea to feel safe from the disease by the fact that the country was not exposed to the outbreak since 2002. The recent outbreak in Ganghwa Island reflects the danger and harm the FMD could cause at any time," local media said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:赵晨雁)

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