Indonesia and Malaysia step up bird flu flight

Indonesia and Malaysia took their anti-bird flu campaigns to the streets today, testing thousands of chickens, ducks and doves for the H5N1 virus that has killed 87 people across Asia.

In India, veterinary workers wearing goggles and protective suits cleaned up chicken coops in a small town hit by the disease, while China reported that a six-year-old boy infected with bird flu had fully recovered.

Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono declared a “war on bird flu” as he launched a three-day campaign to test birds across the capital Jakarta – the source of most of Indonesia’s human cases.

So far 19 people have died in Indonesia, all in the past nine months, more than any country worldwide within the same period.

The government was criticised for failing to take the threat seriously when humans first began dying last year, and it remains to be seen how effective the drive will be in Jakarta, known for its often corrupt and inefficient administration.

Apriyantono acknowledged that bird flu had “reached an alarming level” as 600 workers started testing chickens, pet parrots and ducks across the city of 12 million people, vowing to cull all birds within half a mile of an outbreak.

Many Indonesians keep one or two chickens or songbirds in their yards. Poultry distribution centres and markets also are packed with live birds, many of which are slaughtered in front of clients to assure their freshness.

In one district of Jakarta, government workers seized 260 pigeons after finding four were infected, cut their throats and threw them into an incinerator.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation, with four deaths reported Turkey and one in Iraq.

Most human cases of the disease have been linked to contact with infected birds. But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, possibly sparking a global pandemic.

Malaysian health and veterinary workers were expanding a screening operation in bird flu infected areas near the main city today, as two people with flu-like symptoms remained under observation in a hospital.

Some 190 veterinary officials, students and other government staff began the checks around four villages in the Gombak suburb of Kuala Lumpur, where 40 chickens died from the H5N1 virus last week.

The teams were working in a two-mile radius around the villages today, said Veterinary Services Department spokeswoman Noraini Kanis.

“The teams will take sample swabs from birds, poultry and any free-range chickens they find,” Noraini said. “They will check pet stores, homes and all areas to make sure nothing is missed out.”

In India, veterinary workers began cleaning up chicken farms and disinfecting homes in and around the town of Navapur, where hundreds of thousands of chickens were culled after the first outbreak of bird flu there.

The debris cleared from the poultry farms was buried in pits, which were sprayed with lime powder and other chemicals to prevent a new outbreak of the disease that killed more than 30,000 chickens before it was identified last week as the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

Navapur has been sealed and police barriers on the main roads prevented any vehicles from entering or leaving the town, but so far there have been no reports of the disease infecting human beings.

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