By Bae Ji-sook
Avian influenza is spreading in an unusual pattern, arousing fears over the possibility of the virus changing into one that infects humans and later becomes transferable directly from human to human.
Experts studying several outbreaks of the bird flu since first reported on April 2 said this time, the outbreak has seen very different patterns from before.
According to governmental reports, the flu appeared to be spread in cold weather by migratory birds visiting Korea during the period. The suitable environment for the virus to infect poultry, especially chickens, was mainly November through to March when temperatures were below 4 degrees Celsius, they said.
However, the initial outbreak this year occurred in April, which means the highly contagious flu had appeared in warmer days with summer time approaching.
The infection of ducks at farms in Gimje, North Jeolla Province, also showed that the disease is now contagious to other poultry.
The virus is spreading faster than expected. It was first confirmed in Gimje on April 2, but within two weeks, it has already been confirmed on six other farms nearby and even in the South Jeolla area. On Monday, several other suspected bird flu cases were reported at Iksan and Hampyeong, North of Jeolla Province. The authorities confirmed a total of 20 cases of bird flu as of Monday.
Officials from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries also admitted that the disease is quite different from previous patterns in 2002-2003 and 2006-2007. The fact that the exact route of infection is not identified added public fear toward the disease that has caused the government to kill millions of chickens and thousands of ducks.
Prof. Kim Woo-ju of Korea University Medical Center told Hankook Ilbo newspaper that the virus could easily turn into a pandemic influenza and that the government should set appropriate measures to deal with it.
“By far, avian flu has been found in 67 countries worldwide, where 379 people from 14 countries were reported infected. Among them, 239, or 63 percent, have died,” he said.
However, the government, which has been criticized for not taking strong measures toward active prevention of outbreaks assured people that the warm weather would kill off the virus, denouncing Kim’s suggestion.
“We need at least six months to identify where the virus came from and how it has affected other people. But by far we have confirmed H5N1 virus only, which is carried by migratory birds from the northern part of the globe,” a ministry spokesman said.
The ministry will announce its interim report on the highly contagious disease Wednesday or Thursday.
Source: The Korea Times