January 26, 2004



Bird Flu Spreads To Indonesia


Indonesia today confirmed an outbreak of bird flu among millions of chickens, but said the disease had not spread to humans.


"The government is not trying to conceal that avian influenza has attacked millions of chickens in Indonesia," said Sofjan Sudardjat, a senior Department of Agriculture official.


He said further tests would be conducted to see if the virus was the same strain that has swept through six other countries in the region, killing at least six people and millions of poultry.


"This strain has only affected chickens (in Indonesia) so far," he said.


Governments in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have ordered mass chicken culls to combat the spread of the bird flu.


Vietnam has slaughtered more than three million chickens and Thailand nine million.


In Indonesia, about 40% of nearly five million chickens that have died since October were infected by Newcastle disease, another poultry ailment not dangerous to humans, Sudardjat said. It first hit the Central Java provincial town of Pekalongan.


The disease later spread to a number of districts in Bali, Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra.


Sudardjat said samples of the bird flu virus had been sent to Australia for further testing. Results identifying the subtype of the virus would not be available until Wednesday or Thursday.


Jakarta earlier had insisted that no bird flu had been found in Indonesia, saying the deaths of chickens in the country had been caused only by Newcastle disease.


In attempt to show that Indonesia was free of bird flu, Agriculture Minister Bungaran Saragih and senior ministry officials ate barbecued chicken on a stick in the West Java town of Bogor.


"Chicken meat in Indonesia is safe and can be consumed by the people," Saragih said.


The Indonesian Veterinarians Association said several independent investigations had revealed that bird flu had killed millions of chickens in the past several months.


"The physical signs are that the colour of the dead chickens¡¯ comb turned to blue and their legs had red stripes ... only one virus shows such signs," the deputy chairman of the East Java branch of the association, was quoted as saying by Kompas daily.


Last week, the Indonesian government banned the import of chickens and poultry products from Japan, South Korea and Vietnam following the outbreak of bird flu in those countries.

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