A deadly strain of H5N8 avian influenza has struck at a National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS) campus in South Korea, prompting authorities to cull all of the facility's 11,000 hens and 5,000 ducks. With the losses, the laboratory must replace its flocks with birds kept at other facilities and go through a lengthy recovery process.

"It will likely to take up to 95 weeks to fully rebuild (the flocks) and resume normal research," Kim Sung-Il, head of the contingency team at the Rural Development Administration, which oversees NIAS, told reporters.

A wild goose that died of the virus was found 10 kilometers from NIAS's Suwon campus, near Seoul, on February 1. The entire NIAS staff went to work disinfecting and shunning wild birds at the three centers that keep poultry. Despite those efforts, 30 ducks were found dead on March 2 at the Cheonan campus, 85 kilometers south of Seoul. The next day, authorities confirmed the cause of death as H5N8 avian influenza. NIAS immediately initiated culling, which was completed March 4.


Lee Jun-Won, deputy agriculture minister, said officials were looking at three possible routes the virus could have taken onto campus: wild birds, NIAS vehicles, and supply deliveries. "We will determine the reason for the infection, and we are going to hold those responsible accountable," he said.

The H5N8 strain had never before been seen in such a deadly form when it surfaced on farms in South Korea in January. Despite control efforts, the virus has spread virtually nationwide and outbreaks continue to be reported. There have been no reports of human infections.