SEOUL - South Korea will cull more than half a million fowl in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, having already killed 150,000 chickens near farms where the virus was found, officials said on Thursday.
Last week South Korea confirmed it had its first outbreak of the H5N1 strain in about three years, saying the virus had been found at two poultry farms close to each other in Iksan, about 170 km (105 miles) south of Seoul.
"We will expand the radius of areas for culling bird flu-infected poultry farms ... in order to make sure the outbreak does not spread," the agriculture ministry said in a statement. The announcement came after the country found a second outbreak of the H5N1 strain at a poultry farm on Tuesday.
The government will provide full compensation for the cull. There were no reports to suggest residents or quarantine officials had been infected in or around both infected farms, officials said.
The ministry decided not to include other animals in the cull, although it has already killed dogs and cats on the farms hit by the outbreak despite criticism from animal rights groups. Sales and prices of poultry have fallen by 30 percent since the outbreak, according to the ministry.
Japan and China had banned imports of poultry and poultry products from South Korea. Between December 2003 and March 2004, about 400,000 poultry at South Korean farms were infected by bird flu.
During that outbreak, the country destroyed 5.3 million birds. Subsequent testing in the United States indicated at least nine South Korean workers involved in the culling had been infected with the H5N1 virus, but none developed major illnesses.
The vast majority of human bird flu cases involving the H5N1 virus have been linked to direct or indirect contact with infected fowl. Indonesia said on Tuesday a 35-year-old woman died of the disease, bringing that country's death toll to 57, the highest for any nation.
Bird flu remains essentially an animal disease, but it has infected nearly 260 people worldwide since late 2003, killing more than 150, according to the World Health Organisation.
Since 2003, outbreaks have been confirmed in about 50 countries and territories.