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Avian Influenza Updated: 2017-01-11 14:27:13 KST


It's considered the worst outbreak of avian influenza Korea has ever seen.
Over 300-million birds from almost 800 farms have been culled.
That's almost as much as the last three outbreaks combined.
Egg production has dropped by a third, leading prices to double compared to the same period last year.
To alleviate the shortage, emergency measures are being taken, with the government flying in a hundred tons of eggs from the U.S. next week.
But restaurants, bakeries and ordinary households have already been hit hard.

(Standup)
"The low supply of eggs has had an effect on all walks of life in Korea, even including here at this military base."

The military's egg supply has dropped by 30-percent, taking certain dishes off the menu.
Officials say sausage and other meats will be provided to fill the gap.
But eggs aren't the only concern.

Even though there is almost no risk humans being infected from consuming cooked meat, the Korean public has been put off of eating chicken, leading some businesses to take drastic action.


"We're offering our customers two-and-a-half million dollars if they contract bird flu from our chickens. Although things aren't as bad these days, during past outbreaks our sales fell by as much as 50-percent, so we wanted to both reassure our customers and minimize the impact."

This begs the question of why Korea suffers so many bird flu outbreaks.
Avian Influenza is a problem that's prevalent in many countries, but Korea has particular geographic disadvantages.


"Korea is located in the path of many migratory birds. With avian influenza widespread in China, and many birds either coming from or stopping in China on their way, there is always a risk of it coming to Korea every year."

Although the arrival of the virus cannot be controlled, preventing it from circulating is the key challenge.
Secondary infection -- via the transport of poultry and contaminated equipment and even excrement on shoes -- can cause the virus to spread.
The first bird flu case of the current outbreak was reported in mid-November at a chicken farm in Haenam.
Although alerts were issued, the highest alert level was not raised until mid-December, and by then 10 million birds had already been culled, leading to criticism that the government had acted too slowly.

And as damaging as it was sure to be for the poultry industry and the Korean economy, once the virus spread, culling remained the only viable option.


"There are potential vaccines, but they need to be the right ones. The infrastructure to implement them needs to be there, and its effectiveness has to be proven. Culling is the most clear-cut option, while vaccines rely on the expectation that they will work."

The actions taken in the last month have significantly slowed the virus's spread, but now the focus is on how to prevent this from happening again.
The agriculture ministry has promised to announce a new system for managing livestock diseases in April.
That could include changing the current four-level alert system and other measures such as permanently shutting down farms that are infected more than three times.
But it's possible that a more fundamental change is needed.


"For effective containment, a central control tower run by a body of experts with exclusive powers to make fast decisions needs to be established. We also need a substantial workforce that is ready to do the culling when necessary. If we had those two things, I am confident there wouldn't be an outbreak of this magnitude again."

While the government considers future actions, the Korean public will have to bear a period of low egg supplies and high prices, as families begin to consider preparing for Lunar New Year celebrations.
Kwon Jang-ho, Arirang News.
Reporter : kwon@arirang.com

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