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Malaysia: Viral Outbreak Halted

Malaysia announced Friday that it has contained a deadly viral outbreak that claimed the lives of more than 100 people and crippled its once-prosperous hog industry.

But even as Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who heads the viral task force, announced that the virus had been contained, there were conflicting reports on the number of deaths it caused.

Abdullah said the two suspected killer viruses believed to spread from pigs to humans were no longer wreaking havoc in the central state of Negeri Sembilan and several other parts of the country.

"It can be said that we have achieved success and the outbreak has been contained," he told reporters at a press conference that was closed to the foreign new media.

On Friday, the government also banned the transport of pigs across state borders to prevent infected hogs from spreading the viruses. So far, soldiers have destroyed more than 700,000 pigs out of a targeted 1 million.

The unprecedented six-month viral outbreak has thrown the Southeast Asian nation into confusion. Pig farmers abandoned their homes in February after health officials warned that they could be bitten by the Culex mosquito, which carries the Japanese encephalitis virus, originally thought to be the culprit.

Weeks later, however, local researchers, with the help of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, isolated a previously undetected virus found to be far deadlier than Japanese encephalitis.

Symptoms are the same: high fever, aches, eventual coma and death.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told The Associated Press on Thursday that the virus had never been seen before and that researchers were still struggling with a means to treat its victims.

In Manila, the regional office of the World Health Organization said that, based on human cases under treatment, the incubation period for the virus ranges from four to 18 days, with the first symptom being a severe headache.

Workers in piggeries and abattoirs are highly at risk, but there is so far no evidence of transmission from person to person or from eating cooked pork, the WHO regional office said in a statement Friday.

It said that there have been 11 confirmed cases, including one death, in Singapore. All the victims were abattoir workers who had contact with pigs from Malaysia.

The mysterious virus, which resembles the very rare Hendra virus first detected in Australia in 1994, has claimed more than two-thirds of the total number of victims a figure which is also in dispute.

Thursday's weekly report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 111 Malaysians have been killed by the viral outbreak, while news reports said there were as many as 117 deaths.

The tally on the government's official 24-hour hot line remains 92, far below the estimates by the CDC, which has sent nine scientists here to assist local health officials.

Aso Friday, the Veterinary Department said it sent 1,400 blood samples from horses belonging to the Malaysian Racing Association to the Australian Animal House Laboratory in Geelong, Australia, for screening.

If the horses are infected, they may have to be destroyed, said the department's director-general, Mohd Nordin Mohd Nor.

The department has banned all movement of horses and directed all establishments and individuals to screen all horses for the Hendra-like virus.

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