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Malaysia To Kill Pigs Over Virus

March 30, 1999

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Malaysia will destroy 1.3 million pigs to help curb a mysterious pig-borne virus that has claimed 71 lives, the deputy prime minister said Tuesday.

Authorities are struggling to identify an outbreak of viral encephalitis that has stricken its pig-farming industry since October but has recently triggered a national health scare.

The latest five victims _ all pig farmers _ died Monday.

The government had initially said that about 350,000 pigs would be slaughtered in the worst-hit states of Negeri Sembilan and Perak.

But Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Tuesday that an additional 950,000 pigs, from other villages in Negeri Sembilan, would have to be slaughtered to prevent the virus from spreading, the national Bernama news agency reported.

Health officials had initially identified the disease as Japanese encephalitis, which infects pigs and can be transmitted to humans through the bite of the Culex mosquito. But only 18 of the deaths have been traced to the disease.

Now, officials suspect a new strain of the Hendra virus, which they fear is transmitted by direct contact with infected pigs, both alive and dead.

Little is known about the Hendra virus, which was first detected in Australia, where it killed racehorses and three humans in 1994.

Symptoms are similar to Japanese encephalitis _ high fever, aches, eventual coma and possible death. Both can cause inflammation of the brain.

American experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set up a laboratory with advanced equipment to help Malaysian doctors identify the disease.

Soldiers, covered head-to-toe in spacesuits, have entered pig-farming villages as part of a massive campaign to shoot the pigs. Many residents have fled their homes fearing the outbreak.

Many pig farmers, however, have refused to abandon their pigs or allow them to be slaughtered without compensation. Before the outbreak, a pig was worth from $80 to $155.

Abdullah said the government planned to set up a trust fund for pig farmers that would pay $13 for each pig destroyed.

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