(ATTN: UPDATES paras 8, 12; CHANGES photos)
By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea remained on alert over a further rise in highly pathogenic bird flu cases Friday as the number of highly pathogenic cases in farms approached 10 in less than two months.
The country reported yet another suspected case of highly pathogenic bird flu from Jeongeup, 222 kilometers south of Seoul, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. The farm was raising 17,000 ducks.
Authorities were already investigating another suspected case from Jangseong, South Jeolla Province.
So far, South Korea has confirmed a total of eight seriously contagious avian influenza cases from local farms nationwide.
The latest case came from Naju, 355 kilometers southwest of Seoul, late Thursday. It was also the third case from South Jeolla Province.
"Bird flu cases traced to poultry farms will put a significant burden on society," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.
"We need to thoroughly investigate infected farms and take prompt actions to prevent additional cases," Chung added, pointing out the country is at a critical juncture in curbing the nationwide spread of the disease.
The prime minister also ordered authorities to focus their disinfection operations on wild bird habitats surrounding poultry farms.
The country has already completed the culling of more than 4.4 million poultry being raised at affected farms, including 2.65 million chickens and 1.01 million quails, according to the ministry.
Authorities cull poultry within a 3-km radius of infected farms as a preventive measure.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza is contagious and can cause severe illness and even death in poultry.
The country reported its first highly pathogenic case in 32 months in late October in Cheonan, 92 kilometers south of Seoul, from wild birds.
Since then, a total of 23 cases have been found from wild bird habitats across the country, according to the ministry. Authorities are investigating two more suspected cases among wild birds.
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