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2008/06/10 11:29 KST
N.K. denies rumors on bird flu outbreak: report

   SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has denied rumors that avian influenza or hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) is spreading in the country, a radio report said Tuesday.

   The North's heath authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) that there has been no single case of bird flu or HFMD reported to the authorities this year, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia said.

   The denial came in response to a report published a week ago by South Korean aid group Good Friends, claiming that a mysterious epidemic suspected to be bird flu or HFMD has been spreading in North Korean towns bordering China. The disease has already taken the lives in recent months of many North Korean infants already suffering from malnutrition caused by food shortages, the group claimed, citing unnamed North Korean doctors in the border area.

   The WHO has rendered technical and monetary support to North Korea to help prevent possible bird flu outbreaks since the communist state was hit by the deadly disease in 2005. No new case has been reported since then.

   Jai Narain, the director for communicable diseases at the WHO's Southeast Asia office in New Delhi, was quoted as saying that the international body is working closely with the North Korean health authorities to prevent any potential bird flu outbreak and Pyongyang has submitted related reports to the organization on a regular basis.

   The France-based OIE, the world organization for animal health, also said the North's latest report to the office included no information or reports of any bird flu outbreaks, the radio reported.

   North Korea has inoculated poultry against bird flu to prevent the spread of the virus from neighboring South Korea, according to the North's state-run news media.

   South Korea has slaughtered over 8 million birds since early April when bird flu broke out there for the first time in more than a year. But no South Korean has died of bird flu.

   HFMD, meanwhile, has struck over 10,000 people resulting in 26 fatalities, all of them children, in recent months, according to Chinese media reports.