Wednesday, Aug 25, 2004

Malaysia says clear of human bird flu cases

By Syed Azman

PENANG, Malaysia, Aug 23 (Reuters) - A Malaysian veterinarian and her three children have received a clean bill of health after tests for bird flu, leaving no suspected human cases of the deadly virus after an outbreak among poultry, the government said on Monday.
The World Health Organisation, warning that the virus that has killed 27 people in Asia this year will take years to conquer in the region, has called for more cooperation between agencies and governments.
Malaysia hopes the slaughter of more than 350 birds in a small village near the Thai border will allow it to declare itself free of bird flu after a three-week quarantine.
Seven people taken to hospital for checks after Malaysia found two chickens infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus had now been cleared, officials said.
"I must emphasise that until now only chickens have been found with avian flu. No humans are infected," Health Minister Chua Soi Lek told reporters in Penang.
A teenage girl and her mother from the village at the centre of the outbreak, along with a veterinary worker called to the scene, were discharged from hospital on Sunday.
The veterinarian and her three young children, from another part of the same northern state of Kelantan, had also been given a clean bill of health, Chua said.
The WHO fears bird flu has become endemic and more outbreaks are possible as migratory birds head south before the northern winter.
China said it had tested more than 11 million pigs and found no evidence any were carrying the deadly strain of bird flu. Pigs had been found last year to be infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, a Chinese scientist said last week.
Scientists fear human and bird flu viruses could mix in pigs and form a strain more easily transmittable to humans.
Vietnam has reported 19 deaths from bird flu while there have been eight deaths in Thailand, from where Malaysian officials fear it may have crossed the border in the droppings of birds.
WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Shigeru Omi, said more coordination was needed in what was expected to be a long fight against the disease over several years.
"This battle against avian flu will be a long battle. We cannot finish it this year," Omi told reporters.
"In spite of efforts made by the government of Malaysia and elsewhere we have to assume that this kind of thing will pop up again anywhere, not only in Malaysia but in other parts of this region."
"Out of Stock" signs adorned empty egg shelves at some supermarkets in Singapore, which has banned Malaysian poultry until the outbreak is over.
Singapore is Malaysia's main export destination for poultry, and farmers say the loss of a market that had taken 2 million eggs and 120,000 live chickens a day will cost them up to $790,000 a day.
Egg prices have risen 30 U.S. cents per pack of 10 in some supermarkets where they are still available. One major chain is rationing shoppers to two packets, and only if they do other shopping there.
Frozen chicken prices have risen, hitting hawkers who usually charge less than US$2 for a plate of Chinese chicken rice.
At some produce markets, poultry stalls closed early with chicken so scarce and business so bad some stall holders worried about paying their bills.
"We close early since there is really not much to sell," said Ong Keng Wee, a stallholder. "If the situation continues, we may have to take a break and see how it goes but paying the rent will be a problem." (Additional reporting by Fayen Wong in SINGAPORE)


Fri, Aug 20, 2004

Malaysia scrambles to contain
bird flu, pledges transparency

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia pledged honesty as it scrambled to contain an outbreak of bird flu that has killed 27 people in Asia this year, with poultry producers facing big losses and their stock prices dropping.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government would reveal all facts about the outbreak in a transparent manner following confusion over an apparent attempt to muzzle the local press.
"That is the cabinet directive to prevent any confusion arising over the bird flu outbreak, so no one can suspect us of covering up any negative developments on the disease," Najib was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
On Wednesday night, Bernama 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 the agency carried a brief report saying Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's department had issued a statement denying having made such a directive.
Secrecy has been a recurring problem in the fight against bird flu in Asia, with neighbouring Thailand coming under fire for allegedly covering up both its initial outbreak in January and the recent flare-up of the disease.
The northern Malaysian village where the H5N1 strain of avian flu broke out Wednesday was under tight quarantine Friday after hundreds of birds were gassed, while veterinary officials fanned out around the country to test birds at farms and commercial ventures.
Producers who supplied 130,000 live chickens, 20,000 ducks and millions of eggs a day to neighbouring Singapore had already lost millions of ringgit (dollars) since the city state banned imports Wednesday, industry sources said.
"Singapore is a very important buyer, their ban on our poultry is already causing a big loss for our farmers," Azrul Azwar, senior economist at MIDF Bhd, told AFP.
"So far Singapore and Japan have banned our poultry exports. The impact on the industry will be greater if other importing countries jump onto the bandwagon."
A spokesman for the industry in southern Johor state, which borders Singapore, said if the export ban lasted for three months 50 percent of the workforce would have to be laid off and if the problem was not resolved in six months "the entire industry in Johor would be wiped out".
Farmers have been advised to sell their cancelled consignments locally while all 2,500 farms nationwide had been told to reduce production of live chickens, said Abdul Rahman Mohamad Saleh of the Federation of Livestock Farmers' Associations of Malaysia.
The ban on exports is expected to slash prices locally as excess stock hits the market, with farmers having no choice but to lower the 3.30 ringgit (86 US cents) price of live chicken, Rahman said. Culling of excess livestock would be considered as a last option, he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no risk of infection through eating poultry as long as it is well cooked, as the virus would die at over 70 degrees celsius.
People who have died from the disease -- 19 in Vietnam and eight in Thailand this year -- are believed to have been directly exposed to sick birds.
The WHO has warned, however, 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.
Almost 200 million birds have died or been culled because of the virus that spread rapidly through Asia this year and new outbreaks have shown the crisis is far from over, United Nations (news - web sites) officials told a meeting in the Thai capital last month.
A woman and two children in Vietnam became the latest human victims earlier this month, marking an apparent resurgence of the virus since the last previous death on March 15.
China announced Friday it had made the first ever discovery of the deadly strain of bird flu in pigs, a development that could have ominous implications for efforts to restrict the disease's spread to humans.
Scientists discovered the lethal H5N1 virus in pigs tested in 2003 and again in others this year, China National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory official Chen Hualan told journalists.


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