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Bird Flu Reappears in Malaysia

An isolated new outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been detected among poultry in a village on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital, officials said Wednesday.

The virus was confirmed late Tuesday night in chickens in the Sungai Buloh area of Selangor state, said Kamarudin Mohammed Isa, head of the disease control section at the Department of Veterinary Services.

"We will cull birds within a one kilometre (0.6 mile) radius from the index cases," he said, noting that authorities expected to start killing about 2,000 chickens in the village and surrounding area.

Wednesday night, officials in white protective suits were scouring the village collecting birds, including pets and geese, for testing and disposal.

After taking swabs, the birds were placed in sacks to be taken away and killed later.

The veterinary department was alerted Sunday by the owner of the infected chickens after about 60 of his birds died, said Kamarudin.

Surveillance teams are being sent to surrounding areas to check for more virus outbreaks but none had so far been detected, he said.

"We hope it will remain that way," Kamarudin said.

The ministry of agriculture said in a statement that "this is an isolated case which does not involve a lot of dead chickens." However, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned against complacency.

"They have to identify and quickly take whatever measures to prevent it from spreading," he told reporters.

In neighbouring Singapore, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said it would immediately suspend poultry and egg imports from Selangor as a precaution, while imports from other parts of Malaysia will continue.

Malaysia suffered outbreaks of avian influenza among poultry in early 2006, but there were no human cases and the nation declared itself free of the disease last June.

In March this year officials said the c ountry was on high alert for a possible outbreak of bird flu following fresh reports of the deadly virus around the region.

Neighbouring Indonesia, the country worst hit by bird flu, has recorded 99 human infections, 79 of them fatal.

Thailand has reported 25 human cases, including 17 fatalities.

H5N1 has killed 188 people and ravaged poultry flocks worldwide since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form easily spread among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.


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