Bali braces for bird flu epidemic
The local health authorities have begun implementing the necessary measures to deal with the ongoing outbreak of avian influenza affecting the duck population, and the possible spillover of the disease into the human population.
The measures have been taken following confirmed reports of avian influenza killing thousands of ducks in farming areas in three separate regencies: Buleleng, Tabanan and Klungkung.
Laboratory tests have confirmed that the ducks were killed by the new, more malignant strain of the avian influenza virus known as H5N1 Clade 2.3.2. A similar strain of the virus killed hundreds of thousands of ducks across farming regions in Java weeks before the first reported case in Bali.
Provincial Animal Husbandry and Health Agency head Putu Sumantra stated that preventing the spread of the disease was his top priority.
“Our priority now is preventing the disease from spreading into vulnerable regencies, like Badung, Gianyar and Jembrana, which all have sizeable duck populations,” Sumantra stated, adding that local animal husbandry agencies across the island had been alerted to implement preventive measures.
One effective preventive measure is selected culling, in which infected ducks and ducks at infected farms are killed and the carcasses burned before being buried under the supervision of the agency’s officials.
“As many as 1,500 ducks have been culled; the farmers will get financial compensation from the local administration,” he said, adding that the agency was still negotiating with the local administrations in the affected areas on the amount of compensation and the legal foundation for the compensation mechanism.
“If the outbreak escalates into an epidemic, we will find a way so as the provincial agency could play a role in providing monetary compensation to the farmers.”
The first reported case occurred late December in Kuwum, a small hamlet in Banyuatis village in Buleleng. At least 2,500 ducks, more than half the total duck population in the hamlet, succumbed to the outbreak, inflicting huge financial losses on the local farmers. The second incident took place in Tabanan, surprisingly killing only one duck. The third case killed 200 ducks in Takmung, a village in Klungkung.
Previously, Sumantra had hinted that the outbreak had been triggered by infected ducks illegally transported from Java to Bali, a recurring practice despite the existence of the Bali governor’s order specifically prohibiting such transportation. Ducks command a higher price in Bali than in Java. The Balinese use ducks extensively in their religious offerings and daily diet.
The Bali governor’s order was issued in the aftermath of an avian influenza epidemic between 2007 and 2008 that decimated the island’s chicken farming industry.
“The results of the laboratory tests, which show the same new strain as the one found in Java, corroborated our suspicion that the illegal transportation of ducks from Java to Bali plays a major role in spreading the disease,” Sumantra said, adding that the second probable factor was migrating wild birds, which fly from infected areas into new areas.
Separately, Bali Health Agency head Ketut Suarjaya announced that the agency had alerted three official avian influenza referral hospitals to prepare for a possible outbreak in the human population. The three hospitals are Tabanan regional hospital, Wangaya hospital in Denpasar, and Gianyar regional hospital. The medical staff in these hospitals have received extensive training in dealing with the contagious disease and the hospitals had been equipped with isolation wards.
“We have also a very good team and facilities to handle tropical contagious diseases at Sanglah Hospital.”
Suarjaya stressed that the island’s frontline medical officers at puskesmas (community health centers) already had the knowledge and skills to identify the symptoms of avian influenza.
“Yet, the most important thing is preventive measures, including increasing the public’s awareness to always wash their hands after any physical contact with fowl.”
He also pointed out that the agency currently had stock of 10,000 doses of Tamiflu, an antiviral medication used to treat human patients with avian influenza. The stock is sufficient to fulfill demand for one year.