By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s agriculture ministry said on Thursday two more suspected cases of African swine fever have been confirmed as the deadly hog disease at pig farms in towns near its border with North Korea.

The latest confirmation brings to 13 the total number of cases of detected since the first outbreak on Sept. 17, underlining the urgency of efforts to contain the disease that has swept across Asia since arriving in China last year.

Fatal to pigs with no known cure or vaccine, the disease isn’t harmful to humans. It has now spread to over 50 countries, according to the World Organisation of Animal Health, with many millions of pigs killed, and analysts estimating China lost about half its hog herd in the first eight months of 2019.

South Korea has so far culled about 115,000 pigs and has attached ‘highest alert’ status to a campaign that has included ramping up disinfection measures and putting a temporary nationwide ban on the transport of hogs and related livestock. The agriculture ministry said on Thursday it would update cull numbers soon.

With previous disinfection measures rendered ineffective due to heavy rains from Typhoon Mitag that affected the country on late Wednesday and early Thursday, Agriculture Minister Kim Hyeon-soo called for redoubled disinfection efforts on Thursday.

South Korea is still looking into the source of the virus, but all of the cases have been found on hog farms near its border with North Korea, which reported an outbreak in May.

Meanwhile South Korea’s Ministry of Environment said on Thursday that a wild boar carcass found on Wednesday within the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the heavily-guarded strip of land that surrounds the border between the two Koreas, tested positive for African swine fever.

The carcass was discovered by the South Korean military some 1.4 kilometres (0.9 miles) north of the southern edge of the DMZ, the ministry said in a statement.

“While the fence on the South Korean side along the southern limit line (of the DMZ) blocks movement from the DMZ to the South … the North’s fence is not as solid as ours, which is believed to allow the movement of wild animals from the North into the DMZ,” the environment ministry said.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)