As North Korea battles swine fever, the South frets

North Korean veterinary researchers in Pyongyang on Wednesday help keep track of cases of swine fever, which has no cure.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Wednesday it is actively fighting the spread of the highly contagious African swine fever weeks after it reported an outbreak near its border with China.

The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said workers around the country were proceeding with "airtight" quarantine efforts to prevent the spread of the disease.

African swine fever has decimated pig herds in China — the world's largest consumer of pork — and other Asian countries. It's harmless to people but is fatal to pigs and has no known cure.

Food shortages are common in the isolated and impoverished North Korea, and the outbreak could worsen hunger. The World Food Program says food production in North Korea has hit the lowest level since 2008.

There's concern in South Korea that the outbreak in the North could spread across the border. Lee Sang-min, a spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said the North has yet to respond to calls for joint quarantine efforts.

The North Korean newspaper said quarantine efforts were focused on disinfecting farms and transport vehicles, restricting visitors, and banning the distribution of pork products. The newspaper's references to nationwide quarantine efforts points to the possibility the disease has spread.

South Korean officials say North Korea has not reported any additional cases since it reported the first illness in late May. The North said 77 of the 99 pigs at the farm died of the disease and the rest were culled.

But South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said Sunday that the ministry had received reports that the disease was spreading to other areas in North Korea.

"It's difficult to accurately confirm, so there's a need for us to anticipate and prepare to some degree," he said.

An outbreak South Korea could hurt a massive industry that involves 6,300 farms raising more than 11 million pigs.

South Korea's military said it would be difficult for wild boars to get past barbed wire fences in the mine-scattered border zone between the Koreas. But officials say there's still a possibility that the animals could swim across rivers.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.