A quarantine official wearing protective gear patrols as a precaution against African swine fever near a pig farm in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. South Korea is culling thousands of pigs after confirming African swine fever at a farm near its border with North Korea, which had an outbreak in May. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL - South Korea confirmed on Tuesday its fourth case of African swine fever at a hog farm in a town 40 km (25 miles) north of its capital Seoul, just a week after the deadly disease was first discovered in the country.

The agriculture ministry confirmed the fourth case of swine fever in the town of Paju, near the border with North Korea, after reporting the county's third case late on Monday.

Since South Korea's first outbreak of African swine fever was discovered on September 17, more than 15,000 pigs have been culled, according to data from the agriculture ministry, or about 0.1% of the country's pig population of 12.3 million pigs.

South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, has raised its animal disease alert to the highest level following the outbreak and ramped up disinfection measures to try to keep the virus spreading further.

In North Korea, African swine fever virus was first discovered in May and has continued spreading there as well, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, despite the impoverished country's efforts to cull pigs and ban distribution of pork.

After North Korea's first outbreak of the highly contagious virus four months ago, it imported disinfectants from overseas, but it has not been able to contain the disease, the lawmaker Lee Eun-jae told reporters after being briefed on the matter by the South's spy agency on Tuesday.

In North Korea, which faces chronic food shortages, swine fever has killed all pigs in North Pyongan province, the Yonhap News Agency reported, citing South Korea's intelligence agency.

South Korea has yet to determine how or from where African swine fever entered the country, although it is conducting an investigation. It has also proposed to work together with North Korea to keep the virus from spreading in both countries, but Pyongyang has no responded yet, according to the Unification Ministry in South Korea.

African swine fever, nearly 100% fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread throughout Asia - including to both Koreas and to Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines - since first being detected in China in mid-2018, resulting in large-scale culls and lower output of pork. 

Reuters