By Lee Hyo-sik
A new animal epidemic is looming large here, following foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bird flu, as a group of chickens found dead at poultry farms in the eastern part of the country tested positive, Thursday, for avian tuberculosis, which had not been detected here for the past 50 years.
The finding has dealt a serious blow to quarantine officials and livestock farms, which have been working day and night to contain the spread of FMD and bird flu for more than a month.
According to quarantine officials, avian tuberculosis is a slow spreading chronic bacterial infection. There is neither treatment for infected birds nor vaccines to prevent the disease. Control can only be achieved through depopulation and proper sanitation practices, including rodent control and screening wild birds.
There have been no reported cases in which humans contracted the virus from eating infected meat or coming into contact with it. But those with a weak immune system could become infected.
The Gangwon Provincial Government said that three chickens found dead at a poultry farm in Gangneung had tested positive for avian tuberculosis. About 15 dead chickens at a nearby farm were also positive for the disease.
The owners of the infected farms said dozens of chickens died everyday over the past week, adding they notified the provincial government of the incident to find out why they died.
“We confirmed that the dead chickens died from avian tuberculosis. But to be 100 percent sure, we will ask the National Veterinary Research & Quarantine Service to redo the test. If it tests positive again, we will cull all 6,100 chickens and ducks raised in the two infected farms to prevent the spread of the disease,” a provincial government official said.
He said the latest outbreak is the first of its kind since 1961, adding the provincial and all municipal administrations will make every effort to stop the spread of the infection.
“Avian tuberculosis is not as fatal as bird flu. Also, it spreads at a much slower pace. But the problem is there are no known treatments for infected birds. No vaccines have been developed to prevent it either,” the official said.
The best preventive measure is to keep farms clean and minimize birds’ contact with the outside. Those infected must be destroyed.
“There have been no reports of humans being infected with avian tuberculosis. We strongly advise poultry farmers to make their farms off-limits to outsiders and regularly disinfect sheds. If unusual symptoms are detected in poultry, report it immediately to the provincial government,” he stressed.