North Korea confirms large-scale foot-and-mouth disease outbreak

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PYONGYANG: North Korean state media on Friday acknowledged for the first time that foot-and-mouth disease has broken out in the Asian country, affecting eight provinces.

Rumors had been circling for several weeks that foot-and-mouth disease had broken out in the Communist country. On Thursday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) confirmed that the disease broke out in Pyongyang at the end of 2010 and since spread to eight other provinces.

KCNA said the most seriously affected areas are Pyongyang, North Hwanghae Province and Kangwon Province. Other areas which have been affected are North and South Phyongan Provinces and Jagang Province, although the other three affected provinces were not identified.

"Type O Foot-and-mouth diseases broke out on cooperative farms, diary farms and pig farms in those areas, doing harm to domestic animals," KCNA said. "More than 10 000 heads of draught oxen, milch cows and pigs have so far been infected with the diseases and thousands of them died."

The state broadcaster said a national emergency veterinary and anti-epizootic committee has since been established. "An emergency anti-epidemic campaign was declared throughout the country," it added.

KCNA further added that infected areas had been quarantined and disinfected and that measures were taken to treat those infected with the disease. "All the catering networks and markets have stopped selling meat of the above-said domestic animals," it concluded.

Late last month, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations called for veterinary and border control authorities in Asia to be on alert for animals showing signs of infection by foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) after a large outbreak in South Korea.

Since late November 2010, South Korean authorities have imposed quarantines, initiated a vaccination campaign that is targeting nine million pigs and three million heads of cattle, and culled 2.2 million livestock. The overall cost of this effort is estimated at around $1.6 billion.

"The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia, as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea, are unlike anything that we've seen for at least a half century," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer. "This makes preparedness and monitoring extremely important right now."

In recent years, foot-and-mouth disease has made an unparalleled spread through China and entered eastern regions of Russia and Mongolia for the first time. It recently affected an estimated 1.5 million Mongolian gazelles, whose migration may have helped carry the virus into China. FAO sent an emergency response team to Mongolia to help authorities cope with the disease.

The overall situation in Asia is cause for concern, said Lubroth, especially given the recent Lunar New Year holiday, during which large numbers of people will be on the move in the region, many of them carrying meat products and some transporting animals.

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious disease affecting cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine and other cloven-hoofed animals. It causes blisters on the nose, mouth and hooves and can kill young or weak animals. There are several types of viruses. The type causing the outbreak in South and North Korea is Type O.

The disease does not pose a direct health threat to humans, but affected animals become too weak to be used to plough the soil or reap harvests, and farmers cannot sell the milk they produce due to infection by the virus.

One of the early signs of the disease in infected animals is the excessive production of saliva and nasal discharges. The virus may survive for several hours outside the infected animal, especially in cold and humid environments. This means it can be transported on almost any object that has been in contact with contaminated saliva or other discharges.

The cost of cleaning farms and culling animals is a burden for farmers, and trade restrictions based on disease outbreaks can have major impacts on both local and national economies. Costs resulting from an outbreak in the U.K. in 2001 have been estimated at 13 billion euro (17.6 billion dollars), FAO said.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved. )

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