On a killing spree

On a killing spree a virus spread by infected pigs has claimed more than 85 lives in Malaysia. The virus, Japanese encephalitis ( je ), is carried by pigs and transmitted by mosquitoes. The Malaysian government has since ordered the immediate culling of around a million pigs.

The disease first unleashed itself on the pig farming industry in October 1998, reportedly in the northern Perak state of the country. Killing 15 people in the area, it then spread to the state of Negri Sembilan, which has 145 farms and 800,000 pigs. These states are the worst hit. A majority of the casualties were reported from the state of Negri Sembilan, which is south of Kuala Lumpur. More than 40 people died in this state and scores are being treated in special wards in hospitals. Thousands of people are reportedly fleeing their villages.

je is a very potent and lethal viral disease and is endemic in most parts of rural Asia. The disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of the Culex mosquito which thrives in swamps and open drains. Experts believe that unhygienic conditions of pig-rearing has aggravated the problem.

The virus attacks the brain and affects the nervous system. The symptoms are high fever, aches, vomiting and coma. While a minority of the infected people display symptoms like high fever, most of the afflicted either die or suffer irreversible brain damage. As effective anti-viral drugs are not available, medicines are prescribed to provide symptomatic relief to the patients. Doctors says that the disease causes maximum damage to children and the elderly.

Meanwhile, the government has taken steps to check the spread of the disease: spraying insecticides in irrigation canals and ponds to kill the larvae of the Culex mosquito. Ground crews are cleaning up stagnant water. It is reported that 65,127 people have so far been vaccinated, 1,54,306 houses and 7,618 farms disinfected and 5,799 pig farms inspected. Apart from the people who have fled their villages, thousands have also been evacuated from the infected villages.

The government has announced the creation of a buffer zone around the infected farms and killing all the pigs in the area. To accelerate the culling, a cabinet task force dealing with the crisis has said that they are planning to use carbon monoxide to kill the pigs. More than 2,000 army personnel

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