New avian flu outbreaks spur monitoring in Malaysia

Sep 13, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – New outbreaks of avian influenza in a monitoring zone in northern Malaysia have prompted the government to increase its surveillance to cover the entire state of Kelantan, according to news service reports.

Poultry outbreaks of avian flu have been detected in at least five villages in Kelantan since mid-August, including three in the past few days, according to reports from the Associated Press (AP) and Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency. All the outbreaks are in a 10-kilometer-radius zone centering on the site where Malaysia's first cases of avian flu were discovered Aug 17 in fighting cocks believed to have been smuggled in from Thailand.

The AP reported today that intensive surveillance would be extended throughout Kelantan state, which adjoins Thailand. The story quoted Idris Kadir, director of veterinary services for Kelantan, as saying, "We have embarked on intensive monitoring for the whole of Kelantan to make sure the state is free from bird flu and to determine whether the virus still exists in this state."

Bernama reported today that the Kelantan Health Department has assigned 173 staff members to work on the avian flu outbreak. The department's director, Dr. Ahmad Razin Ahmad Maher, said authorities had checked 1,593 houses and examined 7,689 people in the five affected villages.

An online report by the Star, a Malaysian daily newspaper, said the H5 virus had been confirmed in the three latest outbreaks, but reports didn't make clear whether the virus had been identified as H5N1, the subtype that has afflicted much of East Asia this year and killed at least 28 people.

Meanwhile, four children in Thailand have been hospitalized with suspected avian flu, according to AP and Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports. The AP story said two boys, aged 6 and 8 years, and a 3-year-old girl were hospitalized yesterday with fever and cough in Prachinburi province. A 2-year-old girl in Bangkok was also hospitalized for observation, the story said.

A Thai health official was quoted as saying the children had to be closely observed because they live in areas where chickens died.

Also in Thailand, the government is about to decide whether to use avian flu vaccines on the nation's poultry, according to an online report by the Thai newspaper The Nation. Deputy Prime Minister Chaturon Chaisang said the national avian flu committee would make the decision Sep 15, the newspaper reported.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob said he opposed poultry vaccination because it might endanger Thailand's poultry export business, the newspaper reported. A deputy public health minister said vaccination would save birds from dying but might not prevent them from carrying and spreading the virus, according to the story.

Thousands of chicken farmers demonstrated against the possible use of vaccines, saying vaccination would ruin Thailand's poultry exports and force farms to lay off workers, the newspaper reported.

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