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Bird Flu Outbreak in Indonesia
August marks the beginning of the danger period for the virus's spread
Aloysius Wisnuhardana (wisnuhard)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-01 15:59 (KST)   
Two provinces in Indonesia, South Sulawesi and North Sumatra, have been hit with bird flu outbreaks. In two regions of South Sulawesi, Bone and Sinjai, the number of chickens who died from the flu last week topped 1,500.

If not contained soon, the disease will spread to other areas. However, containment will be difficult to accomplish because several parts of Sinjai have recently been ravaged by flooding and landslides.

Since 2003 bird flu has hit many countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Its progress across the world serves as a warning of how fast it can spread and how difficult it is to combat.

Asia is the worst hit continent. Hundreds of millions of poultry in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and Laos have been slaughtered over the past few years but the virus is unstoppable, reappearing every year.

Bird flu has been reported in several countries in Europe -- Romania, Turkey, and France -- but there have not been as many cases as in Asia.

Experts say that in August, as the cold season begins, the virus becomes more widespread. It is at its most vicious in December and January. This year marks the beginning of the fourth year, or wave, of the virus, which was first identified in 2003.

After four years, bird flu is still an endemic disease. Although several countries have declared that they are free of the virus, there is no way to tell for sure. Vietnam is an example. Vietnamese officials have declared the country free from bird flu on several occasions, but even as they made the declarations, new cases were found.

Indonesia is still fighting the virus. Over the last three months, many cases have appeared in poultry and people.

In May, eight members of a family in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra, died. Seven were confirmed to have the virus; one was buried before a test could be conducted. The case sparked a debate about the possibility that the virus had spread from human to human. In July, two people in Jakarta and Tangerang also died. In both cases, blood samples tested positive for the virus.

The campaign against bird flu has not been effective, particularly among urban people, because there is little awareness of the need to keep their environment clean.

An additional problem is that people who have birds or chickens are reluctant to hand them over as government compensation is very low. In the last campaign the government paid (US$1.01) 10,000 rupiahs per chicken.

Now, when officials make a sweep for poultry to be slaughtered, many people hide them until the officials have gone.

Recent Cases

Starting in two villages in Sinjai on July 20, the virus has spread so quickly in this area that it has already killed more than 500 chickens.

Officials have vaccinated chickens in the area but the virus has not been stopped. In Bone, chicken deaths rose suddenly to more than 1000. The local government has tried to combat it by providing thousands of vaccinations, while local communities in Sinjai started an initiative to slaughter poultry to prevent the virus from spreading to humans.

Meanwhile, in Tanah Karo, coordinated efforts among officials have led to the killing of hundreds of chickens. Of the family that died there, one member is still alive. Jones Ginting was at Adam Malik Hospital, in Medan, for two months. Last week, he was permitted to go back home. Members of the medical staff who took care of him said he was no longer infected, but his lung had been permanently damaged.

The newest case of bird flu is in Bali but officials responded quickly to avoid making foreign tourists reluctant to go there. So far, the virus, in the region called "God's Island," is under control.

Because it is August, the government and avian breeders across the country will need to be more careful as two more cases have already been found in Indonesia. The same goes for Thailand and Vietnam, which have also been hit again.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Aloysius Wisnuhardana

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