Is Bird Flu In N Korea?

From Patricia Doyle, PhD

Hello, Jeff - This does not sound good. My guess is that North Korea might have been trying to hide the bird flu outbreak and it has had a chance to really take hold in N. Korea. If this flu spreads to S. Korea where the pigs are located, the reassortment or recombination will take place and danger of pandemic becomes high.
A ProMED-mail post ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases
Japan Bans North Korean Poultry In Bird Flu Scare
The Scotsman
Japan has banned poultry imports from North Korea following a reported bird flu outbreak in Pyongyang, officials said today.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Tuesday [15 Mar 2005] that thousands of chickens died from bird flu at a processing plant in the North's capital of Pyongyang last month and that the communist nation was believed to be preparing emergency measures.
Japan imposed its ban later on Tuesday as a preventative measure, although Japanese authorities so far have been unable to confirm the report, an official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said on condition of anonymity.
North Korea's state media announced last year that the country was strengthening quarantine measures against avian influenza following the outbreak in Southeast Asia, but before this week there had been no reports of the virus in the country.
Japan imported 5 tons of duck meat in 2002, the only poultry import from North Korea over the last 5 years, the ministry said.
Bird flu has killed 33 people in Vietnam, 13 of them in the latest outbreak that began in December. One died in Cambodia earlier this year, and another 12 in Thailand.
Tokyo currently bans poultry meat imports from more than a dozen nations where avian flu has struck.
Bird flu hit Japan in January [2004] for the 1st time in 79 years. The government confirmed in December the 1st case of human infection in the country but no death was reported.
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Probe Into North Korea Bird Flu
(Reuters) -- South Korean officials are investigating a report of a massive bird flu outbreak in the North Korean capital last month that killed several thousand chickens.
Quoting an unnamed source, Yonhap news agency said on Tuesday [15 Mar 2005] the chickens died at a poultry farm in Pyongyang, prompting an emergency response from North Korean authorities.
Officials in Seoul said a South Korean food processing firm had asked Pyongyang to suspend the shipment of 40 tonnes of chicken due to arrive in the South on Thursday [17 Mar 2005]. "It won't be coming on Thursday," an agriculture ministry official said by telephone.
The shipment was to have been the 1st import of meat products in 5 decades from the North under a bilateral agreement signed earlier in 2005 providing for cross-border trade of some commodities.
Kim Hong-jae, a spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry, said there was no evidence yet to confirm the bird flu outbreak, but the government was following up the report.
Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said the agency had no 1st-hand information and that what was coming out of North Korea appeared to be based on reports by businessmen. "Right now it is at the level of rumor. We are in the process of trying to verify it," he said.
Yonhap said it was not immediately clear if the outbreak was restricted to the farm, believed to be the largest in the country and located in the western part of Pyongyang.
It was also not clear if the strain of virus involved was H5N1, which can jump from birds to humans and is deadly. That strain of the virus has killed 34 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and one Cambodian since it swept across large parts of Asia in late 2003.
Yonhap said North Korean authorities had buried the dead chickens but that some residents had dug up the poultry to sell.
North Korea's state media last week said authorities were doing everything to prevent bird flu from infiltrating the country, but did not say whether there had been an outbreak of the disease. "Veterinary and anti-epizootic work has been intensified at central and local chicken and poultry farms," the North's official KCNA news agency said on 7 Mar 2005.
That report was just one in a series of North Korean state media reports that stressed the danger of a bird flu epidemic and described measures to prevent it. Kim at the Unification Ministry said such reports had alerted South Korean officials to the possibility of an actual outbreak.
South Korea confirmed in December 2004 an outbreak of a milder form of bird flu at a duck hatchery, although the virus type -- identified as H5N2 -- was different from the highly contagious H5N1 strain. South Korea confirmed 19 cases of H5N1 infection at poultry farms between December 2003 and March 2004, resulting in a mass cull of poultry.
No infection in humans have been reported in South Korea, but the outbreak halted the country's modest poultry exports to Japan, Hong Kong and China.
-- ProMED-mail
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Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 From: ProMED-mail
Bird Flu Would Be Nightmare N. Korea
By Charles Whelan
AFP via
Health experts are hoping that reports of a bird flu outbreak in North Korea prove unfounded, saying the disease would prove a nightmare to combat inside the isolated Stalinist state.
Information reaching the outside world from North Korea is notoriously hard to verify, and South Korean officials said they are unable to confirm a report that the North is suffering its 1st outbreak of avian influenza.
"It would be a nightmare if it's true, because we need governments to work with us and that might not be so easy with North Korea," said an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) who declined to be named.
According to the report by South Korea's Yonhap news agency on Tuesday, an outbreak of suspected bird flu has killed thousands of chickens at one of Pyongyang's largest poultry farms.
The source of the report was a South Korean who had encountered North Korean officials on a business trip to Beijing, according to the news agency. The WHO said it was treating the report as a "rumor" so far and regional representatives were seeking more details.
"As soon as we heard the report, we put in a request with Pyongyang for more information. We have got nothing back yet," said Harsaran Pandey, WHO regional information officer based in New Delhi.
She said the world body had an acting representative in the North Korean capital. "Even so, it is a difficult country to get information out of."
If confirmed, it would be the 1st time that bird flu, which has caused serious health risks in Southeast Asia and China, has hit the isolated communist state. North Korea has said the country was free of the disease and recently tightened quarantine checks at airports, seaports and border areas. Experts said, however, that the disease was no respecter of borders and could have been carried into North Korea through infected migratory birds heading north from Southeast Asia at the approach of spring.
Since late 2003 the WHO has registered a total of 69 human cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, of which 46 were fatal.
If Pyongyang comes up with confirmation, international health officials will offer to help it combat the outbreak that could be costly and damaging for a country unable to feed its people.
North Korea has for more than a decade relied on food aid from donor countries to meet the needs of its 23 million people. A confirmed outbreak of bird flu would necessarily trigger a vast cull of poultry, a main sources of animal protein for North Koreans.
According to one Yonhap report, starving North Koreans had dug up and consumed the infected chickens that had been buried at the Pyongyang farm.
The WHO's Pandey said the international body was hoping for cooperation from North Korea.
-- ProMED-mail
The current rumors on AI in Pyongyang have, so far, not been confirmed by the N. Korean authorities, and thus the disease remains "suspected." Korea (Dem. People's Rep.) is a member-country of the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE); its current representative is Dr Jong Gwang Pak, Director of the veterinary and anti-epidemic Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, Pyongyang.
No disease notification reports -- be they weekly, monthly or annual -- from N.Korea are available on OIE's web-sited database, dating back to 1996. The current import prohibition by other countries may be explained by the unclear epidemiological situation in N.Korea. - Mod.AS .................arn/pg/jw
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