A quarantine official disinfects an ambulance near a chicken farm where South Korean authorities confirmed the presence of the avian influenza virus. (Yonhap/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

With the PyeongChang Winter Olympics set to begin on Feb. 9, the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs announced Monday that it had confirmed the presence of a highly pathogenic strain of the H5N6 avian influenza virus at two chicken farms south of Seoul, Korea JoongAng Daily reports.

The two farms both are approximately 80 miles to the west of PyeongChang. The government has culled 190,000 chickens at the farm in Hwaseong and another 144,000 at the farm in Pyeongtaek. It also has ordered that 430,000 chickens on farms in a 500-meter radius of the Pyeongtaek farm be slaughtered and has destroyed nearly 500,000 eggs at the Hwaseong farm as a precautionary measure. The government also will inspect and disinfect other farms in the area.

Since 2014, the World Health Organization has confirmed 16 cases of human H5N6 infection, with six deaths, but all took place in China.

“The avian influenza virus we discovered at Hwaseong is highly pathogenic and spreads very fast,” a ministry spokesperson told Korea JoogAng Daily. “It reproduces continuously before symptoms appear in the hosts or before they die.”

Since November, the government has discovered 15 cases of the bird flu, resulting in the deaths of nearly 2 million chickens. In response to the resulting egg shortage, the government began importing them from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

A different influenza strain is prevalent in North Korea, which will send athletes across the border to compete in PyeongChang and is hosting South Korean skiers for training events. According to the International Foundation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, North Korea confirmed more than 80,000 cases of the H1N1 influenza strain, known as swine flu, between Dec. 1 and Jan. 16, resulting in the deaths of three children and one adult.

In 2016, the World Health Organization issued guidelines to visitors of countries dealing with avian flu.

“WHO advises that travelers to countries with known outbreaks of avian influenza should avoid, if possible, poultry farms, contact with animals in live bird markets, entering areas where poultry may be slaughtered, or contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with faeces from poultry or other animals,” it wrote. “Travellers should also wash their hands often with soap and water, and follow good food safety and good food hygiene practices.”

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