(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 2, 4, 9, 14)
By Lee Joon-seung
SEOUL, Dec. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has decided to expand the use of vaccines to stem the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks that have spread across the country despite extensive quarantine efforts, the government said Sunday.
The farm ministry said vaccines are to be distributed throughout three counties in the southeastern part of Gyeonggi Province that are home to a large percentage of the country's milk cows. This latest move follows the announcement made Thursday that called for the vaccination of 133,000 animals in Andong, where the animal disease was first confirmed on Nov. 29, and nearby Yecheon in North Gyeongsang Province. Paju, Yeoncheon and Goyang in northern Gyeonggi Province have also been subject to vaccinations as of Saturday.
"About 56,000 animals in Icheon, Yeoju and part of Yangpyeong will be vaccinated starting Monday after the authorities reviewed a request by provincial officials," Lee Sang-soo, head of the ministry's animal quarantine division, said.
He said that the vaccinations will be carried out in the smallest possible area and reflect the need to protect other regions from FMD, which has hit four provinces so far. Only cattle will receive shots since they are more susceptible to the virus than pigs, with vaccination being carried out only up to 10 kilometers from where an outbreak was reported in most cases.
The latest move follows an outbreak in Yeoju County, which is relatively close to large livestock centers that have not yet been affected by the disease, such as Anseong, Yongin and the Chungcheong provinces.
Animals at the Yeoju cattle farm have been under observation after animals started showing symptoms such as excessive drooling, loss of appetite and high fever.
All 140 animals at the farm and those within a 500-meter radius have been ordered culled and buried to prevent further spread of the disease.
The latest confirmed outbreak brings the number of confirmed FMD cases to 53 with more than 424,000 cows, pigs, goats and deer from more than 1,900 farms and ranches to be destroyed. There have been a few other confirmed cases of the disease that were found after the animals were culled and buried, which are not counted in the total.
Quarantine authorities added that three more possible cases of the disease had been reported during the day. Animals at a pig farm in Incheon, west of Seoul, displayed symptoms, along with cattle at farms in Cheongsong, on the southeastern coast, and Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province.
Related to the latest outbreak, the most severe in South Korea's history, President Lee Myung-bak earlier in the day instructed related agencies to provide full support for the affected farms and redouble their efforts to prevent the animal disease from spreading further.
Chung Woon-chun, a senior member of the ruling Grand National Party, also said earlier in the day that his party will seek to establish an advanced system to prevent livestock diseases.
"(The government) needs to set up a nationwide system to prevent animal diseases from spreading," said the former farm minister, who heads the party's FMD task force.
FMD is highly contagious and affects all cloven-hoofed animals, such as cattle, pigs, deer, goats and buffalo, although it is harmless to humans. It is classified as a "List A" disease by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, with countries that report outbreaks barred from exporting meat.
The country was hit by the disease in 2000, 2002 and two more times earlier in the year. Authorities estimated losses are expected to hover around 400 billion (US$347 million).
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