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Deadly bird flu hits South Korea

(Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Soo-Jeong Lee, Associated Press:

SEOUL, South Korea - A highly contagious bird flu, strains of which are deadly to humans, has killed thousands of chickens and ducks in South Korea (news - web sites), an agriculture official said Tuesday.

Authorities have culled thousands more in an effort to contain the disease.

Tests found the bird flu was caused by the H5N1 virus. But authorities are still investigating whether it is the deadly H5N1-97 strain that crossed from chickens to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, killing six people, the official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said on condition of anonymity.

South Korea began its probe after 20,000 chickens died at a farm in the town of Umsung, some 40 miles southeast of Seoul, earlier this month.

Since then, the agriculture ministry has culled 5,000 other chickens at the farm as a precaution and has quarantined poultry within a six-mile radius.

On Tuesday, ducks at a farm near Umsung also tested positive for the bird flu, and authorities ordered 3,300 of the ducks to be killed and buried.

South Korean officials say there is only a small chance of the virus crossing from birds to humans because most strains of H5N1 are not transmittable. Less fatal bird flus have hit South Korea periodically since 1996.

Virus samples were to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites) in Atlanta for definitive testing.

Early this month in Hong Kong, a 5-year-old boy came down with bird flu, but not the same H5N1 strain that caused the deadly 1997 outbreak. The boy has since recovered.

The 1997 outbreak forced the government to slaughter 1.4 million chickens in Hong Kong.