News / Asia

Indonesia Identifies New Strain of Bird Flu

A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
A Balinese government official injects a chicken to cull it as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of bird flu, at a market in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, April 26, 2012.
Kate Lamb
Almost half of those who have died from avian flu have been in Indonesia. And, although it might seem as though bird flu has gone unnoticed, a new virulent strain has been found on the Indonesian island of Java.

In recent weeks, more than 300,000 ducks have died on the densely populated island of Java.

The government has since confirmed the deaths were caused by a new and highly pathogenic strain of H5N1, or bird flu.

Dr. Rita M. Ridwan, the director of disease control at the Indonesian Health Ministry, says the government is working closely with relevant ministries to investigate further.

“So we are in close contact by sharing information, sharing the virus lab and even working together in the field to do field investigations," Ridwan explained.  "I know there are very alarming deaths in the duck population, mostly in the center of duck production by the traditional farming as well as in central Java and East Java.”

The investigation will focus on the affected areas, preventing its spread and determining if the new strain originated here in Indonesia.

For now, the health ministry has urged all local governments to report substantial poultry deaths.

Indonesia has one of the highest bird flu fatality rates worldwide - and most who contract the virus die.

But Ridwan says it is still unclear why the rate in Indonesia is so high.

“We the experts, the researchers are still trying to find the answer," the doctor admitted.  "Why? Is that because Indonesians is too late coming to the health services? Is it because the virus itself so virulent.  Or others things. Our researchers are still trying to answer this.”

Ridwan says that low levels of basic health and poor access to health services could be a contributing factor.

Bird flu ravaged Indonesia in 2003, and is normally spread from birds to human via direct contact.

According to the World Health Organization, of the 359 bird flu-related deaths worldwide, 159 have been in Indonesia.

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