The avian influenza (AI) virus has been discovered in migratory birds across the nation and flocks of birds in the area off-limits to civilians near the 38th Parallel.
Most of the strains found are not very pathogenic, only affecting the ability of poultry to lay eggs. Still, it is feared that some strains might turn into highly pathogenic strains that could kill a great number of birds.
On December 18, Dong-A Ilbo examined a report titled: Special Preventive Measures to Block the Spread of Avian Flu, published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. According to the report, 50 cases of low-pathogenic AI infections were discovered in eight areas between October 1 and December 11. The discoveries were made after researchers collected and analyzed about 3,000 bird fecal samples from 24 habitats of migratory birds across the country and the off-limits area near the inter-Korean border.
AI viruses were detected in samples from Sihwa Lake and Tanhyeon-myeon in Gyeonggi Province, the restricted area along the border in Goseong-gun, Gangwon Province, Cheonsu Bay and Pungse Stream in Southern Chungcheong Province, the mouth of Geum River in Northern Cheolla Province, Haepyeong-myeon and Dasan-myeon in Northern Gyeongsang Province, and Eulsuk Island in Busan.
Out of eight infections discovered in Sihwa Lake, one is the H5 strain that requires the kind of extra care that is usually taken with highly pathogenic AI viruses. The H5 and H7 types are highly dangerous, Dr. Bernard Vallat, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), an organization that monitors animal disease on a global basis, warned recently.
Professor of veterinary medicine Kim Seon-jung at Seoul National University also warned, Even if the H5 and H7 viruses are defined as low-pathogenic, they are much more likely to mutate into highly pathogenic varieties. So the government must publicly announce the discovery of those viruses and inform people of the danger of them.
In late 2004, the government culled all the ducks at a duck farm in Gwangju, where the low-pathogenic H5 strain appeared.
An Agriculture Ministry official promised that the ministry would let the public know in case the highly pathogenic H5N1 and the low-pathogenic H5 or H7 are detected during a presentation of its special preventive measures against AI in early October. But the ministry has yet to publicize the discovery of the H5 virus around the Sihwa Lake area.
It is in the restricted area along the 38th Parallel where the largest number of AI infections have been detected. Thirty-three cases were reported from the area. The result came as a confirmation that the area adjoining North Korea is indeed a hotbed of AI viruses because there are frequent exchanges between the North and China, where AI infections are constantly reported.
Poultry infected with low-pathogenic AI viruses lay deformed eggs or 10 percent fewer eggs than usual, but the fatality rate is low.
Kim Jae-hong, a senior researcher at the National Veterinary Research and Quarantine Service, said, Even though people use a general single term to refer to a variety of bird flu viruses, there is a diverse range of strains. So it takes more than just knowledge of the type of the virus to identify the danger. Farms must prevent their poultry flocks from coming into direct contact with migratory birds themselves.