SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is seeking to regain its foot-and-mouth disease-free country status without resorting to constant use of vaccines, a senior level government official said Friday.
Deputy farm minister Lee Sang-kil said in a meeting with reporters that Seoul's current stance is to swiftly carry out vaccination to stem the rapid spread of the highly contagious animal disease, but not to give shots on a regular basis.
"Nationwide vaccination efforts are emergency measures and not something Seoul wants to do permanently," he said.
The official said that while policymakers are not ruling out the use of additional shots if the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus is not destroyed, such a decision can only be made after extensive testing is carried out on animals in the country and consultation with experts.
Once ongoing vaccination efforts take effect and there are no more FMD cases reported for over six months, the country will start taking steps to regain its FMD-free status from the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). He stressed, however, that such a step will take time, he said.
"Everything will depend on how thoroughly decontamination efforts are carried out during the spring and summer months when it is easier to destroy the animal virus," he said. He predicted the government would decide what course it must take in September.
Lee said that if livestock tests reveal the virus has not been fully destroyed, Seoul may have to give additional inoculations that could delay the country's regaining of its FMD-free status for up to two years.
Regaining FMD-free status is important because it affects both export and imports and overall health of the local livestock industry.
The official said that while South Korea can seek to become an FMD-free country that uses vaccination from the OIE, like Argentina, there is a need to carefully examine the cost of such a step. Vaccinating around 3.4 million cattle and 10 million pigs every five to six months can cost the country up to 100 billion won (US$89.7 million) per year.
"In hindsight, it would have been cheaper if South Korea opted to vaccinate animals but there was no way to predict the huge losses caused by the latest outbreak," the official said. He pointed out that Seoul had no outbreaks for eight years after 2002, while those that occurred early last year cost about 170 billion won.
The country has culled and buried 1.61 million heads of cattle, pigs, goats and deer since the first case was confirmed on Nov. 29. Total losses incurred are estimated at a minimum of 1 trillion won, with numbers likely to be higher once a complete tally is taken.
The official added that frontline experts are predicting FMD outbreaks to come under control in one or two weeks, since it usually takes a month for vaccines to start having an affect. The country started giving limited shots on Dec. 25 before ordering nationwide vaccinations earlier in the week.
Quarantine officials, meanwhile, reported no new outbreaks for the day and said there was a drop in number of suspected cases in recent days. The country already gave shots to 1.6 million animals in areas that are exposed to the disease.
On bird flu outbreaks that were first reported on Dec. 31, the farm ministry said only one case was confirmed for the day. It said a small chicken farm in Yeosu, 455 kilometers south of Seoul, tested positive for the virulent strain of the H5N1 virus.
It said all 20 birds have been culled along with those in a 3-kilometer radius. Other animals within 10 kilometers of the farm have been barred from movement to other farms for the time being.
Since the first confirmed bird flu case was reported on Dec. 31, the country has reported 24 cases of avian influenza with over 3.51 million birds being destroyed.