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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 16:46 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Pig virus fear in Malaysia

The government says that 64,000 pigs must be killed

Hundreds of families have abandoned their villages near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, because of the spread of the Japanese encephalitis virus.

Frances Harrison in Kuala Lumpur: "Many animals have been abandoned by their terrified owners"
The virus - which can be transmitted from pigs to humans via mosquitoes - has killed at least 50 people in the last few months. Known as "plague of the Orient", it attacks the brain and causes a high fever.

The Malaysian Government says it intends to kill 64,000 pigs which might be carriers of the virus, and has ordered vaccinations for 300,000 people and a further 500,000 pigs in an attempt to control the disease.

Shoot to kill

About 1,400 soldiers and police were mobilised into three areas in the western state of Negri Sembilan to shoot the animals.

[ image: VIllagers are fleeing their homes as the virus takes hold]
VIllagers are fleeing their homes as the virus takes hold
Earlier it was announced that one abattoir worker in Singapore had died of the virus and a second was seriously ill.

Symptoms of the virus include headaches, dizziness, fever and convulsions leading to loss of consciousness. A delay in treatment can lead to paralysis or even death.

According to correspondents, some towns are deserted with houses, schools and markets shut.

Fears that the meat is contaminated because of the virus has wreaked havoc on Malaysia's 250m pork business, despite government reassurances.

Farmers have resorted to killing their pigs as the workforce has abandoned the farms and there is no one left to tend to them.

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