South Korea’s African swine fever crisis intensified Tuesday with lab tests confirming the country’s fourth case in a week from a farm near its border with North Korea. It raised fears officials are losing a battle to halt the spread of the disease that wiped out pig populations across Asia.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said tests showed the disease caused three miscarriages in pigs at a farm in Paju, a border town where the country’s first case was confirmed last week.
The ministry’s announcement came hours after the country’s third case was confirmed Monday night at a farm in Gimpo, which is on the southern side of the river that separates the border region and the metropolitan area surrounding Seoul, triggering concerns the outbreak is spreading toward population centers.
African swine fever is harmless to people, but spreading from farms to densely populated areas will make it harder to contain. The illness is highly contagious and fatal for pigs, with no known cure.
In South Korea, where diets rely heavily on pork, there is concern the outbreak could spread and hurt an industry with 6,300 farms raising more than 11 million pigs. The disease decimated pig herds in China and other Asian countries before reaching the Koreas.
More than 15,000 pigs were culled in South Korea after the country’s first two outbreaks were confirmed last week from farms in Paju and Yeoncheon, another border town, but have yet to identify the infection route. The disease may have crossed from North Korea, which reported an outbreak near its border with China in late May.