WHO Expresses Concern at Spread of H5N1 to Malaysia


MANILA, Philippines -- The World Health Organization (WHO) said today it was troubled that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus had appeared in poultry in Malaysia, a country that has been implementing aggressive measures to prevent importation of the virus.


"H5N1 has once more shown how well it is entrenched in parts of South-East

Asia," said Dr. Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.

"It is going to be a long and difficult struggle to eliminate this virus from

the environment.  And the longer it takes, the greater the risk to public



On Aug. 19, Malaysian authorities officially informed WHO that

H5N1 had been identified in a small flock of free-range chickens in a village

in the northern state of Kelantan state, close to the border with Thailand,

where there have been known outbreaks.  There is no evidence that the virus

was imported from Thailand.


The Malaysian authorities have introduced a number of measures in response

to the outbreak.  These include culling all chickens within a one-kilometer

radius of the affected village, clinical surveillance of poultry within 10

kilometers and a ban on the movement of poultry within 10 kilometers.  Members

of the public in the affected area have been advised to seek prompt medical

assistance if they show symptoms of influenza, surveillance is being tightened

in Kelantan and other states, and hospitals, laboratories and clinics have

been placed on alert.


There has been no sign of the virus appearing in humans, but Omi

repeated earlier WHO warnings that each new outbreak raises the possibility of

this happening.  "As long as the virus circulates in poultry this way, there

will be a risk of it jumping to humans, with the potential for a pandemic

influenza strain," he said.


Omi expressed support for Malaysia's veterinary and public-health

response to the outbreak and for the prompt manner in which it informed

international organizations, as well as neighboring countries, about the

presence of the virus.  "Transparency such as Malaysia has displayed is vital

in the fight against the virus," he said.  He also endorsed Singapore's

decision to halt the import of poultry and poultry products from Malaysia.

"This is in keeping with international recommendations," he said.


WHO will be working closely on the outbreak with the Malaysian authorities,

the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for

Animal Health.


Source: World Health Organization

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