Malaysia on bird flu alert as new human cases in neighboring countries

Malaysia heightened bird flu watch on Tuesday as Southeast Asian neighbors Vietnam and Indonesia struggled to fight the virus, and the concerns knocked local poultry firm shares down as much as 4 percent.

Malaysia has not had any human infections of avian influenza, despite culling thousands of birds a year ago, after the death of two infected chickens near its border with Thailand.

But new human cases in Indonesia this week, along with Vietnam's near-two-year struggle against the disease, are prompting Malaysian authorities to look more closely at the possibility the virus could recur, a senior official said.

"We're carrying out checks on all poultry farms near our borders to ensure nothing slips through," Hawari Hussein, chief of the veterinary services department, the top government agency in charge of preventing bird flu, told Reuters.

The World Health Organisation's West Pacific chief, Dr Shigeru Omi, yesterday warned at a conference in New Caledonia that the fear of no compensation was prompting many farmers not to report outbreaks.

Health experts say the Indonesia cases are almost certainly a result of animal-to-human transmission but the WHO director-general, Lee Jong-wook, said it was "just a matter of time" before the virus mutates into a form that is transmissible between humans and that it might kill millions of people."

Officials at the zoo said the outbreak, which had affected rare eagles, peacocks and cockatoos, was discovered during random testing, informs Guardian.

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