updated 8/19/2004 10:54:20 AM ET 2004-08-19T14:54:20

Malaysia went on a nationwide alert against bird flu Thursday after officials confirmed that a deadly strain of the disease, blamed for the deaths of 27 people in Asia, had been found in a tiny northern village.

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Senior agriculture ministry officials said that tests showed that the lethal H5N1 strain was present in the chickens. Nearly 200 chickens, ducks and other birds in the village was being slaughtered to keep the disease from spreading and re-igniting a regional health scare.

“It is H5N1,” Abi Musa Asa’ari Mohamed Nor, the ministry’s secretary-general, told a news conference. “We believe the outbreak will remain contained in that location, but we shall not take any chances.”

None of the villagers in Pasir Pekan, a clutch of a dozen houses where the infected birds were found, had shown health problems, indicating the disease had not jumped to humans, Abu Musa said.

Veterinary officials went on a “nationwide alert” and will inspect hundreds of poultry farms across this Southeast Asian country — which had been spared earlier flu outbreaks — for signs of infection, Abi Musa said.

Malaysia will step up security along the Thai border to prevent poultry smuggling, Abu Musa said. Officials believe that the outbreak was caused by a cross-border infection, but could not confirm whether it came from smuggling or the movement of migratory birds.

Earlier, the Veterinary Department had said that preliminary tests indicated the flu strain was not H5N1 — which has jumped from chickens to people in Thailand and Vietnam, causing human fatalities — but that more tests were needed.

Malaysia suspended poultry exports Wednesday as a precaution after discovering that chickens at Pasir Pekan, a village near the northern border with Thailand, were infected with some form of bird flu.

The H5N1 strain swept across much of Asia early this year, killing 27 people in Vietnam and Thailand. Some 100 million chickens perished through infections or government-ordered slaughters. It was largely contained by April, but Vietnam and Thailand are among a handful of countries still dealing with recurring flare-ups.

The H5N1 strain, highly contagious among chickens, has not been shown to pass between people, though health officials worry it could mutate into a form that is contagious for people, sparking the world’s next flu pandemic.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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