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South Korea steps up measures to contain bird flu

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of bird flu ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, after migratory birds were found to be infected with the same strain of the virus that hit poultry farms last week.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement on Monday that it suspects a flock of migratory birds found dead last week brought the latest outbreak of the H5N8 strain of bird flu.

Since the virus hit three farms in the southwestern part of the country last week, about 90,000 poultry have been culled from South Korea's population of 160 million farm birds as of Saturday, according to ministry data.

Asia's fourth-largest economy has had four outbreaks of bird flu viruses in the past 10 years. The most recent, in 2011, led to a cull of more than 3 million poultry.

The government has issued a movement control order for livestock and related transport in North and South Jeolla provinces in the southwestern part of the country, and raised its bird flu warning level to 'alert' from 'caution' ahead of next week's Lunar New Year holiday.

The farms hit last week were in North Jeolla province. No human infection has been reported in the most recent outbreak.

The first case of H5N8 bird flu was discovered last Friday at a duck farm in the county of Gochang, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Seoul. Another two farms were hit in the nearby county of Buan, some 240 km from Seoul.

The H5N8 strain was first identified in a 2010 case reported in China and is similar to the H5N1 type.

In Asia, around 150 people in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have been infected by a new H759 strain of bird flu since it emerged in China last year, claiming at least 46 lives.

(Reporting By Jane Chung; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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