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South Korea confirms first swine fever outbreak

SEOUL, South Korea (UPDATED) – South Korea on Tuesday, September 17, reported its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from China to North Korea, pushing up pork prices worldwide.

Five pigs found dead at a farm in Paju, a city near the inter-Korean border, were confirmed to have been infected with the virus, an official with Seoul's agriculture ministry told the Agence France-Presse.

"At this point, it's too early to confirm if the case stemmed from the North," the official added.

Seoul's agriculture minister Kim Hyun-soo said 3,950 pigs from 3 farms in Paju were to be culled.

The country has raised its animal disease alert to the highest level and a nationwide 48-hour ban on the movement of pigs was issued, he added.

The virus is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs that is almost always fatal.

There is no antidote or vaccine and the only known way to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock.

Although this was the first confirmed outbreak of African swine fever in the South, the country has battled a number of animal diseases in the past.

In 2014, outbreaks of avian flu in poultry farms resulted in the culling of more than 500,000 birds.

A 2011 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease resulted in the culling of nearly 3.5 million cattle, pigs and other animals.

The confirmed cases in the South came around 3 months after Pyongyang told the World Organization for Animal Health that dozens of pigs had died from the disease at a farm near the Chinese border, according to the South's agriculture ministry.

In June, Seoul said the disease was "highly likely" to enter the country from the North and ordered fences to be erected at farms along the border to prevent possible contact between pigs and wild boar.

There are around 6,700 pig farms across South Korea and pig farming accounts for 40% of the total livestock industry.

In May, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization said pork prices had risen by up to 50% both in China and on the Chicago futures exchange as a result of the outbreak.

Last month, it said almost five million pigs in Asia had died or been culled because of the spread of the disease. – Rappler.com