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Malaysia Banishes Bird Flu, But Vietnam Toll Rises

by 5m Editor
7 January 2005, at 12:00a.m.

MALAYSIA - Malaysia declared itself free of bird flu on Thursday, but another death prompted Vietnam to step up its fight against the virus that has killed 34 people across Asia and ravaged the region's poultry industry.

Malaysia Banishes Bird Flu, But Vietnam Toll Rises - MALAYSIA - Malaysia declared itself free of bird flu on Thursday, but another death prompted Vietnam to step up its fight against the virus that has killed 34 people across Asia and ravaged the region's poultry industry.

China also said it would resume imports of almost all poultry from the United States, ending a ban that followed an outbreak in Delaware in early 2004.

Vietnam's Health Ministry urged consumers to exercise caution in buying chicken after tests on Thursday showed that bird flu killed a 6-year-old boy on Dec. 30, taking the number of Vietnamese deaths from the virus to 22.

While Vietnam cracks down on illegal poultry smuggling from China, Malaysia is turning its attention to regaining market share in countries that banned its chickens last year, costing its poultry industry millions of ringgit in losses.

"Malaysia is now free of bird flu, but we are continuing surveillance as the threat is still there," said Hawari Hussein, director general of the government's veterinary services department.

He said Malaysia had avoided any new cases of the potentially deadly H5N1 avian flu virus since Nov. 22. No human cases have been reported in the country, and the virus was contained within the northern state of Kelantan.

But in Vietnam, bird flu had spread to 11 provinces by Jan. 3, the Agriculture Ministry said -- nine of them in the Mekong Delta, where the epidemic broke out in late 2003 before spreading across the country to wipe out 17 percent of all poultry stock.

The World Health Organization warned that Vietnam may face new bird flu cases this month as poultry is moved around the country ahead of the Lunar New Year celebrations in early February.

A 9-year-old boy died on Tuesday, the first bird flu death of 2005, and a 16-year-old girl is in a critical condition in a Ho Chi Minh City hospital.

VIETNAM CULLS

Vietnam has culled 28,700 poultry since the beginning of December, Bui Quang Anh, head of the Agriculture Ministry's animal health department, was quoted by the Vietnam Net e-newspaper (http://www.vnn.vn) as saying.

The government is also concerned that up to 10 tons of chickens and ducks are being smuggled into the country from China every day, prompting it to announce a new campaign to tighten border controls. "Consumers should refrain from buying poultry without quarantine and without clear origin," a Vietnamese Health Ministry spokesman said.

On Jan. 1, animal health officials started tightening inspection of all poultry shipments to Ho Chi Minh City, home to nearly 10 million people, and banned the transport of live poultry on passenger buses.

The Health Ministry said humans have no immune mechanism against H5N1, which is contagious and can quickly mutate and combine with another flu virus.

Bird flu also killed 12 people in Thailand last year and cases were reported across Southeast Asia and China.

But Thailand has reported no new cases -- neither human nor in fowl -- since November.

"The bird flu situation has been steady. Now, only 20 areas in eight provinces are under 21-day bird flu monitoring," said Yukol Limlaemthong, chief of Thailand's Livestock Development Department.

The last Thai victim was a 14-year-old girl who died in October, when 51 of Thailand's 76 provinces were under bird flu watch.

The current 21-day monitoring period would come to an end by mid-January, Yukol said, but Thailand was not yet ready to declare itself free of bird flu.

"We will keep monitoring the situation for a while," he said.

And Thailand would not yet be able to sell poultry to Malaysia. Hawari said Malaysia's ban on imports of chicken, ducks and eggs from Thailand and other affected countries would continue for the foreseeable future.

But he said he hoped other countries, including Japan, would now consider lifting a ban on imports of Malaysian poultry. Singapore ended its import ban in September.

China, meanwhile, said it would allow imports to resume from all U.S. states except Rhode Island and Connecticut. It did not say why the two states were excluded.

China's imports of U.S. chicken were valued at $59 million in the first 10 months of 2004, versus $313 million in the same year-earlier period, data from the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service showed. (Additional reporting by Vissuta Pothong in Bangkok and Lucy Hornby in Shanghai)

Source: Reuters - 7th January 2005

5m Editor