Asian countries struggle to contain avian flu

Jan 19, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The H5N1 avian influenza situation in Asia remained active today as Indonesia began clearing Jakarta of backyard fowl to curb the spread of the disease, Vietnam fought a poultry outbreak in an eighth province, and Thailand tested several people for suspected infections.

Government authorities in Indonesia banned backyard poultry in the country's capital after five human cases were reported so far this month, all in Jakarta or its suburbs. In several instances, poultry deaths were reported in the patients' neighborhoods.

Residents have until Jan 31 to surrender the banned fowl, including chickens, ducks, swans, quail, and pigeons, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. The government promised to pay $1.40 for each bird surrendered for culling.

Indonesia has resisted widespread culling in the past, despite the high number of human illnesses: 79 cases and 61 deaths have been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Backyard farmers are often reluctant to hand over their sick or at-risk birds. The Associated Press (AP) reported today that the country has about 350 million backyard chickens, many of which are in Jakarta and surrounding areas.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told residents culling is urgently needed, the AP reported. "People infected by bird flu have only a small chance of survival. With no medicine to fight the virus and the pattern of the disease still unclear, we have to cut the chain of transmission, which means killing fowl," she said.

Starting Feb 1, government officials will go door-to-door confiscating banned birds, the governor of Jakarta told the AP recently.

A few day ago, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla, announced that the government planned to extend the ban on backyard poultry to residential areas throughout the country.

Officials of Bogor, a town that neighbors Jakarta, branded the culling plan unrealistic and too expensive, and said it was based on an emotional reaction to the spate of recent human cases, the Jakarta Post reported 2 days ago.

Herlien Krisnaningsih, of the Bogor Agribusiness Agency, said her department had not received any instructions from the central government on how to carry out the culls. "We are not ready yet to carry out the central government's call because it will be extremely costly, and we believe it will discourage officers in the field who are struggling to prevent the virus from spreading," she told the Post.

In Vietnam, the health ministry announced that avian flu killed some ducks in Can Tho province, bringing to 8 the number of provinces in the Mekong Delta affected by recent poultry outbreaks, Bloomberg News reported today. The virus killed 30 ducklings, and the remaining 40 ducks in the flock were culled to stop the disease, the ministry said.

In earlier news reports, officials blamed local animal-health officials and farmers for not maintaining poultry vaccination programs and farmers for hatching poultry illegally.

"Farmers still don't take vaccination seriously enough," Hoang Van Nam, deputy head of Vietnam's animal health department, told Bloomberg. "It will be extremely hard for local veterinary officials to undertake proper fowl vaccination without the support of those raising the poultry."

The country has been battling dozens of outbreaks in the Mekong Delta since early December. Though no human H5N1 illnesses have been reported since November 2005, Vietnam leads the world in the number of cases, with 93.

Meanwhile in Thailand, 11 people from 9 provinces are being monitored for avian flu, Bloomberg News reported today. All have flulike symptoms and had recent contact with dead poultry, Suphan Srithamma, a spokesperson for the public health ministry, told Bloomberg today. He said none of the patients have tested positive for the H5N1 virus, but they will be monitored for 10 days.

Thawatchai Kamoltham, chief public health officer of northern Thailand's Phitsanulok province, said 26 people were being monitored because they became ill after contact with dead birds, according to a report today from Xinhua, China's state news agency. Fifteen of them were officials who took part in recent culling activities. Three were admitted to hospitals, and the rest were being monitored at home.

Thawatchai told Thai News Agency today that four members of a duck-farming family in the province were suspected of having avian flu after they consumed 2 birds that had died. Authorities slaughtered 600 ducks at the farm and instituted a 2-week quarantine to prevent the spread of the disease.

Officials were also concerned that 30 pigs on the farm may have contracted the virus, TNA reported.

Recent confirmed H5N1 outbreaks in Thailand came after a 6-month lull, the health ministry said. The country's last WHO-confirmed human case was reported in September 2006. Thailand has had 25 cases and 17 deaths, most of them in 2004.

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