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Korean Bird Flu Infections Confirmed

Posted February. 25, 2006 03:05,   


The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) confirmed Korea’s first human bird flu infections without symptoms in an announcement yesterday.

According to the KCDC, the cases were confirmed after it carried out an antibody test on the blood serum of 318 soldiers and workers who took part in a poultry cull from December 2003 to March 2004. Four tested positive for H5N1, a mutated bird flu strain.

Last November, the KCDC sent the serum samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for a close examination and received the results back just recently. The KCDC said the four people, though infected, are not considered bird flu patients because they developed antibodies against the virus and have shown no problematic symptoms. The center also added that those who participated in the cull took the drug Tamiflu and displayed no bird flu symptoms afterwards.

When bird flu was spreading in Japan in February 2004 and June 2005, no symptomatic patients were reported, but a later serum test showed that about 80 people had been infected without symptoms.

Regarding the KCDC announcement, Lee Deok-hyung, head of the Communicable Disease Response Center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said, “Those infected have not exhibited any symptoms. Their serum tests were positive only. Therefore, they do not fall into the patient criteria confirmed by the World Health Organization.” Lee also said, “Human to human bird flu infections have been nonexistent around the globe. Thus, contact with those infected and consumption of poultry are safe,” asking the public not to worry.

However, the Welfare Ministry said, “Because farmers raising bird flu-infected poultry and cull workers have continuously exposed themselves to the virus, they should receive special treatment and be quarantined.”

Over the past six months, no bird flu cases have been reported in Korea, making the country a bird flu–free nation as defined by the World Organization for Animal Health.

The Welfare Ministry announced that the discoveries of human infections from the serum tests do not affect Korea’s bird flu-free status and that the public can consume poultry products without worry. It also added it perform serum tests on 1,600 other people who participated in cull.

Regarding the infection results, Professor Song Jae-hun at Samsung Seoul Hospital said, “It has no meaning except as Korea’s first domestic human infections. Still, it suggests that Korea is no longer a safety zone from bird flu.”

Jin-Han Lee needjung@donga.com likeday@donga.com