Bird Flu Makes a Comeback in Malaysia

The virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu has been detected outside Kuala Lumpur, one year after Malaysia was declared free of the disease, the government said Wednesday.

A statement released by the Department of Veterinary Services said 60 birds were reported Saturday to have died within three days in Paya Jaras Hilir village in Selangor state, which surrounds Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur.

Tests on Tuesday confirmed they had died of H5N1, Ramlee Rahmat, deputy director-general of public health, told The Associated Press.

The Health Ministry was actively monitoring people in the area, he said, but so far no one had symptoms of bird flu, including fever.

"There is no need to panic. It has happened before. We're taking the same steps now -- as per our action plan," he said. "There is nothing unusual."

Authorities have started slaughtering chickens and fowl in Paya Jaras Hilir and in three nearby villages, the statement said.

Malaysia was officially declared free of bird flu in June 2006, three months after the last outbreak of the H5N1 strain was detected in chickens in a northern village.

Health officials are monitoring the area and the virus seems to have been contained, the government statement said, adding it was an isolated incident and not a cause for concern.

Bird flu has killed at least 188 people since H5N1 started ravaging Asian poultry flocks in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization. There have been no fatalities in Malaysia.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said officials will have to "take whatever measures to prevent it from spreading." It is "important that immediate measures are taken," he said.

Neighboring Singapore suspended poultry and egg imports from Selangor state "as a precautionary measure with immediate effect," the city-state's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a statement.

Poultry imports from the disease-free zones of Johor, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Perak states will not be affected by this suspension, it said.

Malaysia supplies 3.6 million poultry and 83.7 million eggs per month to Singapore. Imports from Selangor constitute only about 6 percent of the poultry and 1 percent of the egg imports from Malaysia, the statement said.