South Korea bird flu outbreak reaches 7,000 infections

The H7N9 virus, from the Chinese poultry trade, has now infected 47 people this year, nine of whom have died

South Korea’s outbreak of the deadly H7N9 strain of bird flu soared above 7,000 infections for the third straight day on Friday. At least 393 people have fallen ill since the outbreak was discovered in late April.

The H7N9 virus, from the Chinese poultry trade, has now infected 47 people this year, nine of whom have died. But the problem has escalated, with 167 cases of the virus being detected in people over the past three days.

The new infections occurred in areas of Seoul which had been isolated from the other regions hit in recent weeks. Tests from 18 of the new cases have been confirmed as infected with the H7N9 strain. In total, 3,672 infections have been confirmed so far.

On Thursday, the South Korean health ministry issued a warning over the virus, suggesting its spread could be faster than previously feared. Health officials have announced no deaths, but two siblings died on Wednesday and Sunday respectively from the same strain.

Doctors and scientists have been stressing that the lack of deaths from the virus so far does not necessarily mean there is no danger to the public.

“We will do our best to tackle the current situation, but an outbreak of deadly disease has not been detected until now,” said Park Chang-seok, chief of the health ministry’s control and prevention division.

The strain caused alarm earlier this year as it was the first such strain to circulate in Asia outside of China, which has been plagued by outbreaks of the virus.

In September, the world’s biggest chicken farm was destroyed by authorities after a human infected with H7N9 bird flu had been traced to a 40-hectare (100-acre) chicken farm located just 20 km (12 miles) north of Seoul.

This is the biggest nationwide bird flu outbreak South Korea has ever seen, prompting the culling of more than 5.2 million chickens in the biggest outbreak of its kind in the country in 18 years.

South Korea is now one of the world’s top five producers of chicken, valued at $3.2bn according to 2011 figures, with 4.5 million chickens produced per day.

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