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19 Aug 2004 13:29
A deadly strain of bird flu that has killed 27 people across Asia this year has hit Malaysia, the government announced on Thursday.
Tests have proved that an outbreak of avian flu among chickens in a village in the north-eastern state of Kelantan, first revealed on Wednesday, was caused by the H5N1 virus, an official said.
“We conducted further tests with samples from that village and the latest tests prove positive for H5N1 virus,” Agriculture Ministry secretary general Abi Musa Asa’ari Mohamed Nor told a news conference.
All areas within a 10km radius of the village have already been quarantined to ensure no poultry or birds are smuggled out. Culling of scores of chickens and ducks is under way in the small settlement of about 10 houses.
Health officials have examined the residents of the Baru Pasir Pekan village, near the Kelantan state capital Kota Bharu, but none of them is ill and they are not under any sort of quarantine, Abi Musa said.
Two chickens have died from the disease.
The outbreak is a blow for Malaysia’s thriving poultry industry.
Neighbouring Singapore, which imports 120 000 live chickens and 20 000 live ducks from Malaysia daily, suspended all imports, driving poultry stocks down on the local bourse.
Nineteen people have died in Vietnam this year after being infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza that has also killed eight people in Thailand.
A woman and two children became Vietnam’s latest victims when they died earlier this month, marking an apparent resurgence of the virus since the last previous death on March 15.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the new human infections confirm the continuing ability of the virus to transmit to people from poultry and the risk of avian and human viruses mingling and developing into a pandemic strain.
“We are not taking any chances,” said Abi Musa.
The country will go on national alert for bird flu and veterinary officials will conduct tests at all poultry farms, commercial ventures and bird parks, he said.
Security at the borders will be stepped up to prevent poultry being smuggled into the country. Kelantan state, where the virus broke out, is on the border with Thailand, but Abi Musa did not want to speculate on the source of the disease.
The official Bernama news agency on Wednesday night carried an “urgent note to editors” saying that “the prime minister’s department has directed the media not to use any story relating to the so-called bird flu in the country”.
But on Thursday afternoon Bernama carried a brief report saying Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s department has issued a statement denying having made such a directive.—Sapa-AFP
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