JAN 28, 2004 WED

Malaysia: High alert against unusual flu cases

By Leslie Lau

MALAYSIA is on high alert for any unusual deaths among its poultry stock and any spike in human flu cases despite barring chicken imports to prevent the avian influenza from entering the country.
Officials said they are prepared to start culling livestock if the bird flu infects animals.
Malaysia produces more than one million chickens a year and Singapore imports live chickens - some 120,000 a day - only from Malaysia.
Malaysian Customs and veterinary officials are keeping an especially close watch on the porous Malaysia-Thai border for any attempt to bring in poultry from Thailand.
'There must be no smuggling of chicken. This happened during the Nipah virus outbreak,' said Health Minister Chua Jui Meng yesterday. When the deadly Nipah virus struck Malaysia's pig population in 1999, unscrupulous farmers breached quarantine rules by smuggling out infected pigs to uninfected farms.
This led to the disease spreading throughout the country. More than 100 farm workers died as a result.
'I want to ask Malaysians not to be tempted by cheap prices and engage in smuggling,' Datuk Chua said.
He said procedures for dealing with any possible outbreak of the avian influenza had been institutionalised and was based on lessons learnt during the Nipah and Sars outbreaks.
Health officials at all government clinics, especially in the rural areas, have been asked to report any unusual flu cases, particularly among farm workers.
Farm workers and government veterinary officials are also on the lookout for unusual deaths among the chicken population.
Datuk Chua said government laboratories have so far only detected the human flu virus among cases sent for tests.
'It is very comforting. So far, there has been no big jump in flu cases,' he added.
The minister will attend a meeting in Bangkok today on the bird flu crisis.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"