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Malaysia is on high alert for avian flu

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  • Malaysia is on high alert for avian flu

    On high alert for avian flu

    Annie Freeda Cruez
    KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is on high alert for the avian influenza or A (H5N1) following an outbreak of the disease in poultry in Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
    This followed a warning from the World Health Organisation to the Western-Pacific region about the confirmed cases.

    WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo, said in a statement that the presence of H5N1 in poultry posed a health risk in two ways: it placed those in direct contact with the birds -- usually rural folk and farm workers -- at risk of catching the often-fatal disease, and the virus could undergo a process of "reassortment" with another flu virus and produce a new strain.

    "The most obvious risk is of H5N1 combining with the pandemic influenza A (H1N1) virus, producing a virus that is as deadly as the former and as contagious as the latter."

    Reassortment occurs when the genes of two or more types of influenza virus mix in a host animal -- often a pig, duck or chicken -- and form a new strain of virus.

    Veterinary Services Department director-general Datuk Dr Abd Aziz Jamaluddin said yesterday all state directors had been told to be on the alert for any H5N1 and H1N1 outbreak among poultry and pigs.

    "Our surveillance teams are monitoring poultry and pig farms nationwide for any sign of outbreaks."

    He said they were carrying out surveillance on 772 pig farms, including those in Sabah and Sarawak.

    "We do clinical signs surveillance for H1N1 in all pig farms and so far, no signs of H1N1 have been detected."

    Deputy director-general of Health Datuk Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman said although there had been no new cases detected in Malaysia, the nation was on high alert.

    "The last case of avian flu in poultry here was in 2007 and ever since, we have been closely monitoring the situation to ensure there is no outbreak of the disease," he said, adding that the ministry would continue monitoring cases of influenza-like illness for H1N1 and H5N1.

    The ministry has advised people who work in poultry and pig farms to use protective gear.

    In Mexico in April, after the reassortment of avian, swine and human strains of influenza in pigs, a novel influenza virus -- the H1N1 -- emerged in humans. This virus spread quickly around the world and infected millions of people.

    Since 2003, outbreaks of H5N1 have been reported in poultry in 60 countries in Asia, Europe and North Africa. The virus is considered endemic in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam