Foot-and-mouth disease taking toll in Koreas

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South Korea has culled millions of livestock and is vaccinating millions more to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, while North Korea also is responding to an outbreak of the disease.

"The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea are unlike anything that we've seen for at least a half century," said Dr. Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. "FAO is advocating proactive vaccination campaigns designed to stop the spread of the disease."

Between late November 2010 and late January 2011, South Korean authorities responded to the FMD outbreak there by imposing quarantines, culling 2.2 million livestock, and initiating a vaccination campaign targeting 9 million pigs and 3 million cattle. The cost of the effort is about $1.6 billion, according to the FAO.

The FAO called for veterinary and border control authorities in Asia to be on alert for animals showing signs of FMD.

In late February, the FAO and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) sent a team to North Korea to help veterinary authorities respond to an FMD outbreak there among pigs and cattle. In addition, the team sought to assist North Korean authorities with long-term prevention planning.

Also in eastern Asia, according to the FAO, new strains of FMD virus have spread throughout China and eastern regions of Russia and Mongolia. The disease recently affected large numbers of Mongolian gazelles, and the FAO sent an emergency response team to Mongolia to help authorities cope with the disease.