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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
Source: World Health Organization