SEOUL, S KOREA - A POULTRY dealer who breached quarantine restrictions is suspected of spreading South Korea's bird flu outbreak, officials said on Tuesday as a suspected case was reported not far from Seoul.
The agriculture ministry confirmed a sixth outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain after the first was reported in Gimje, 260 kilometres south of Seoul, early this month.
It said a suspected case has now been reported at a farm in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometres south of Seoul, where 356 chickens died late on Monday.
'The Pyeongtaek case is not good... and there is a good chance that the Pyeongtaek farm has been infected by the H5N1 strain,' Mr Kim Chang Sup, a senior ministry official, told a briefing.
Mr Kim said he suspected that follow-up outbreaks, except for the initial cases in Gimje and its surroundings, might have been spread by a poultry dealer breaching quarantine.
'A poultry dealer was found to have taken hundreds of ducks out of an infected farm in Gimje and supplied them to other retailers and restaurants in other regions,' Mr Kim told reporters.
He said the dealer was under investigation and police and quarantine authorities were trying to track records of his illegal trading.
Authorities restrict the movement of birds, people and vehicles in infected regions.
The trading of infected poultry is subject to fines or up to one year in prison.
Apart from the confirmed H5N1 infections, which are potentially fatal to humans, 14 other suspected cases are being investigated.
Authorities have so far slaughtered 1.9 million chickens and ducks in and around infected farms in the southern Jeolla provinces, a hub of the livestock industry.
South Korea reported seven cases of H5N1 infection between November 2006 and March last year, resulting in the temporary suspension of poultry exports to Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and elsewhere.
But last June the World Organisation for Animal Health classified the country as free from the disease.
The H5N1 strain has killed more than 230 people worldwide since late 2003.
No South Koreans have contracted the disease. -- AFP