South Korea, already battling a serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock, yesterday confirmed an outbreak of bird flu at poultry farms.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has been detected in ducks in the city of Cheonan, South Chungcheong province, and in chickens in the city of Iksan in North Jeolla province, the Agriculture Ministry said.
It said that in response the authorities have culled affected poultry and quarantined duck and chicken breeding farms in affected areas.
The government has raised the bird flu alert to "caution" from "attention", while its foot-and-mouth disease alert remained at the highest level, the ministry added. So far, 540,000 pigs, cattle and other livestock have been culled.
South Korea has no human cases of the high-severity bird flu strain. It has had three outbreaks of the virus at poultry farms in the past 10 years, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, the nationwide outbreak of foot-and-mouth has prompted shutdowns of all livestock markets in South Korea, leading to a rise in the price of beef and pork and a possible rise in imports from the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth, which affects livestock including sheep, cows and pigs, originated in pigs in the city of Andong in North Gyeongsang province in late November. The authorities have been carrying out vaccinations in the worst-affected areas.
Worldwide concerns over bird flu reached a high point in 2005, when a number of people in South-east Asia died after contracting the virus. The mortality rate in those who caught the virus exceeded 60 per cent. None of those deaths occurred in South Korea.