South Korea is to disinfect all poultry farms nationwide to combat its worst outbreak of bird flu, the agriculture ministry said Tuesday.
In the capital Seoul, all 15,000 chickens, ducks and other fowl -- including pet birds in school aviaries -- have been culled after a second case of the potentially deadly H5N1 virus was confirmed there.
Nationwide, more than 6.8 million chickens and ducks have been slaughtered since the latest outbreak began around April 1. But the ministry has reported 40 cases of bird flu at 31 places nationwide.
An association of poultry breeders estimated losses at 500 billion won (478 million dollars).
The agriculture ministry said it would restrict the distribution and sale of live poultry for human consumption. It has already banned the butchering of chickens and other poultry at traditional markets.
"The government will take strong steps to stop the spread of bird flu, which is causing enormous damage to our poultry industry," an agriculture official told AFP.
The H5N1 strain has also spread to Busan, the country's second largest city, where officials plan to cull some 4,000 birds.
Police have also stepped up a crackdown on smugglers selling infected birds.
They are questioning six poultry breeders and distributors who have sold thousands of culled ducks for dogfood and hundreds of ducks from infected farms to chicken food stores, Yonhap news agency said.
No human infections have been confirmed in South Korea even though the H5N1 strain has killed more than 240 people worldwide since late 2003.
In the country's 2003-2004 outbreak 5.28 million birds were culled while a 2006-2007 outbreak resulted in 2.8 million birds being destroyed.