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By Kang Yoon-seung
SEJONG, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Monday confirmed the third case of African swine fever (ASF) in the country, sparking concerns over the nationwide spread of the deadly animal disease.
A suspected case was reported earlier in the day at a farm in Gimpo, just 30 kilometers west of Seoul, and the case resulted in a positive test for the highly contagious disease. It was the first confirmed case reported south of the Han River, which runs through the South Korean capital.
South Korea's first-ever confirmed case of ASF was reported in Paju, located near the border with North Korea, on Tuesday. The second case was reported the following day in neighboring Yeoncheon.
South Korea's agricultural ministry said it also received another report on a suspected case in Paju late Monday. It said quarantine officials were immediately dispatched to gather samples from the Paju farm.
If the samples test positive, it would mark the fourth confirmed case of ASF in South Korea.
All confirmed or suspected cases so far came from northern areas of Gyeonggi Province, adjacent with the inter-Korean border. Two suspected cases of ASF were reported in Paju on Friday, then later tested negative.
Meanwhile, the infected farm in Gimpo, with 1,800 pigs, is located roughly 15 kilometers from the Paju farm and 45 km from Yeoncheon.
More than 3,000 pigs are currently being raised within a 3-km radius of the farm in Gimpo, the ministry said, with the number increasing to around 50,000 in a 10-km range.
The ministry has been slaughtering pigs within a 3-km radius of the farms infected with the fever, larger than the required 500-meter radius. The government culled some 15,000 pigs in Paju and Yeoncheon over the weekend as part of precautionary steps.
Quarantine officials are expected to carry out similar measures in Gimpo following the new confirmed case.
The disease is highly contagious and fatal for pigs, with no cure currently available. It is, however, not harmful to humans.
The ASF cases came roughly four months after North Korea reported its first confirmed case of the disease -- at a farm near its border with China -- to the World Organization for Animal Health.
Local authorities are currently working to determine what caused ASF in the country, including inspecting waterways that connect to North Korea. The disease is mainly spread by contaminated feed or by direct contact with people and wild animals with the virus.
The ministry said it will also speed up efforts to recover from damage caused by Typhoon Tapah, which stuck southern parts of South Korea on Sunday with strong winds and heavy rains, to prevent any further spread of ASF.
"We need to bolster quarantine measures to the highest level, and apply disinfectants throughout the country following the heavy rain," Agriculture Minister Kim Hyeon-soo said during an emergency meeting on ASF.
The ministry, however, said there have been no leaks from the burial sites following the typhoon.
As the incubation period of ASF is up to 19 days, local farmers are remaining vigilant over a possible nationwide outbreak of the disease.
Under quarantine efforts, the ministry designated six municipalities of Gyeonggi Province, including Paju, Yeoncheon and Gimpo, as tightly controlled zones last week. More than 400 farms are estimated to be raising around 700,000 pigs in the six areas.
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