KABUL, Mar 16 (AFP): Afghanistan, Myanmar and Malaysia confirmed outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu and took urgent protective measures on Thursday as the deadly virus continued its march across Asia.
Pakistan also said it was highly likely the same strain caused an earlier outbreak at two chicken farms on the Afghan border, while India stepped up a mass slaughter following a second outbreak of avian flu.
Meanwhile a strain of the bird flu virus has been found in a dead stray dog in Azerbaijan, although it was not clear what type it was.
The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain has killed about 100 people in seven, mainly Asian, countries since 2003. Scientists fear a global pandemic if the virus mutates and becomes easily transmissible between humans.
Afghanistan ordered the immediate slaughter of all birds in affected areas after the UN and the government said samples from Kabul and eastern Jalalabad city tested positive for the deadly strain, the country's first outbreak.
"Thus far in Afghanistan, avian influenza remains confined to the bird population, with no human cases reported. Nonetheless, it is imperative that the human population is protected," they said in a statement.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation last month warned bird flu was "virtually unavoidable" in war-scarred Afghanistan, which is on one of the paths of migrating birds that carry the disease.
One chicken seller in Kabul said sales had plummeted even before H5N1 was confirmed. "I sold a chicken for 300 afghanis (six dollars) in the past but now no one will even buy it for 50 afghanis," said Abdul Waheed.
Across the border in Pakistan there was an "80 percent probability" that the outbreak of bird flu at reported late February was H5N1, Food, Agriculture and Livestock ministry spokesman Mohammad Afzal told AFP.
Pakistan slaughtered 25,000 chickens at the farms and sent samples to a European Union laboratory in England to find out whether H5N1 was present.
"But we have already decreed for protective measures as if we are faced with H5N1 virus, considering the high probability of its presence," Afzal said.
The FAO also said Thursday that laboratory tests had confirmed the H5N1 outbreak reported by Myanmar three days ago in the central town of Mandalay.
The military junta, meanwhile, lifted a news blackout on bird flu and carried out preventative measures against the H5N1 virus. Health authorities have slaughtered 12,500 chickens and quarantined 43 farms near Mandalay.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar printed a full page of detailed information about efforts to control the outbreak and included a guide on measures for people to avoid catching the virus.
The regime's top veterinary official Than Hla said so far no human cases have been detected.
Malaysia Thursday announced a new outbreak of the H5N1 strain in an eco-park and a village in the northern state of Perak.
Agriculture Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged the public to stay calm and cooperate with veterinary and health officials to contain the latest outbreaks.