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Indonesia's death toll rises as bird flu thrives on farms
posted by admin on 11/08/06
The fast-mounting human death toll from bird flu in Indonesia - now believed the country worst-hit by the disease - concerns experts who fear the virus will keep infecting people until it is controlled in poultry.
Local tests concluded two teenagers living in Jakarta's outskirts succumbed to the H5N1 virus this week. Specimens have been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation, and if positive, the country's death toll would rise to 44, making Indonesia the world's hardest-hit nation.
The country has racked up nearly a third of the world's fatalities in just one year, with the latest cases surpassing Vietnam's reported 42 deaths, which occurred over about 2 1/2 years.
But experts say the number of human deaths is a symptom of a much larger problem - the rampant spread of infection among the country's billions of poultry raised in backyard farms.
"When you have trouble controlling infection among the chicken flocks, you are naturally going to see continuing infections among humans," said Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
He said the more it spreads, the greater chance it has of eventually evolving into a strain that could cause a human pandemic.
Fauci, who visited Southeast Asia last year, said Indonesia has not shown the same aggressive approach as Vietnam and Thailand in tackling the problem in poultry.
Many local governments in Indonesia have refused to carry out mass poultry slaughters and vaccinations have been sporadic.
One of the main issues is a lack of centralized control in a young democracy where public awareness about the disease is lacking.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is working with the government at the village level to develop local outbreak detection teams to snuff out poultry outbreaks before they can spread.
But progress is slow with limited resources in a country of 220 million people spread across 17,000 islands.
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