A highly pathogenic strain of the avian influenza virus was confirmed at a poultry farm in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on Tuesday, following detection in Nobeoka and Miyazaki, both in Miyazaki Prefecture.
The latest outbreak is the third this season, defined as October to May, and it is feared that it may develop into the first nationwide pandemic since 2010, when the virus brought about a massive plague among birds.
Poultry farmers are giving up their New Year's holidays to fight the scourge, with the national and local governments on the alert for a possible worsening.
Before dawn to midnight
At a poultry farm in Nagato on Tuesday, 500 prefectural and municipal government officials set about killing about 37,000 birds from before dawn until midnight. Culled birds were put in drums and other containers, and some were taken to an incineration facility.
Ouchiyama poultry farm, raising about 20,000 parent stocks in the city, was inspected by prefectural government officials, as the farm is located within a three-kilometer radius of the farm where the virus was detected.
Miyazaki Prefecture had successive outbreaks at two poultry farms last month. The prefecture was forced to cull more than 1 million birds between January and March 2011 when the virus was widespread.
"During the New Year season, all of my family will avoid going out in case of an emergency," poultry farmer Wataru Inoue said.
In the eastern part of the nation, which saw the bird flu pandemic four years ago, fears are growing among poultry farmers and others.
In Chiba Prefecture, a highly pathogenic bird flu virus was detected in droppings of wild birds this season. Akira Sugano, who keeps about 20,000 birds in Noda, says he gives his birds disinfected well water to protect them from the flu.
In Aichi Prefecture, which slaughtered about 160,000 birds during the two months from January 2011, the prefectural government's Livestock Industry Division officials and other officials gathered at their offices on Tuesday morning. Their unexpected workday at the year-end was filled with tasks such as warning more than 300 poultry farms in the prefecture.
"We have been reinforcing our sense of urgency much more than the usual year as the flu was spreading in South Korea. And now the fear is getting real," said an official.
"We're now in a situation where a nationwide pandemic can be expected," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the recent meeting among relevant Cabinet members held at the Prime Minister's Office. He suggested the relevant bodies take all measures to deal with the situation.
In this season, the nation also saw a number of cases in which the virus of highly pathogenic avian flu were detected from wild birds.
A total of nine such cases were confirmed, in which the virus was found mainly from droppings and bodies of migratory birds since November last year.
In fiscal 2010, when more than 1.8 million birds were culled in nine prefectures, there were also a number of cases in which the virus was detected in wild birds with simultaneous outbreaks at poultry farms.