M'sia brushes off bird flu warning

PHOTO: M'sia brushes off bird flu warning

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has brushed off a warning by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) about a resurgence of the deadly bird flu virus and a new mutant strain.

Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai was quoted in the New Straits Times Wednesday as saying that the country remained vigilant about the H5N1 virus but no new cases had been reported.

"The public should not worry. We will let them know about the latest developments on the virus," he was quoted as saying.

An aide confirmed his comments.

Liow said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had not confirmed the FAO's warning. WHO in a release on its website Tuesday said it recognised the virus' evolution in February but that it was "not considered unusual."

"Based on available information, this evolution of the H5N1 virus poses no increased risk to public health," it said.

The FAO said Monday that a virus "able to sidestep the defences provided by existing vaccines" had appeared in China and Vietnam and could spread to Malaysia and other countries.

The Rome-based organisation also warned that there could be a "major resurgence" of the bird flu disease, calling for a heightened readiness and surveillance.

The virus developed into a pandemic in 2009. The UN's World Health Organisation says 565 people have been infected since the deadly H5N1 strain first appeared and 331 of them have died as a result.

Malaysia experienced bird flu outbreaks between 2004 and 2007 but no human cases of avian flu were reported.