Waning efforts to control the spread of Avian Influenza, including separating poultry farms from residential areas, may be behind the recent increase in human bird flu cases, a ministry official says.
Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the director general of disease control and environmental health at the Health Ministry, said on Wednesday that the H5N1 virus would continue to infect humans as long as there were no serious efforts to curb infections in poultry.
“It is a question of whether we can completely destroy the virus in poultry,” Tjandra told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
The flu virus is a common disease among poultry, but it became a global health concern when human cases were found in China and Vietnam in 2003.
Indonesia saw the highest number of human bird flu cases from 2006 to 2008, with the majority of cases reported in its densely populated provinces of Jakarta, West Java and Banten.
The outbreak peaked in 2006, which saw 55 cases with 45 deaths.
There was also a case of suspected human-to-human infection in Karo Regency, North Sumatra, in which seven members of a family died within less than a month.
The government formed a special national commission to integrate efforts to handle the case as well as instruct regions, especially the three provinces with the most cases, to establish controls in the poultry sector in the area.
The main target of the programs were small poultry traders and slaughterhouses as well as traditional markets near residential areas. The lack of hygiene in these settlements was suspected to have contributed to the high number of human cases of the disease.
Local authorities issued regulations and plans to regulate the issues and for a while, several regions, including Jakarta, implemented strict measures on pet bird certifications and monitored the hygiene of poultry coops near residential areas.
The program has since slowly run out of steam. Jakarta, for example, has still not implemented a planned relocation of poultry slaughterhouses to outside residential areas.
However, there have been fewer reasons to worry as the number of cases in the country has declined since 2007, with only nine human cases, leading to seven fatalities, recorded last year.
However, it was reported that two children in Bangli regency, Bali, died of the disease on Sunday night.
The Health Ministry has yet to confirm whether the victims had contact with poultry.
I Putu Sumantra, head of Bali’s animal husbandry department, said on Wednesday that bird flu outbreaks among poultry had spread to eight regencies and municipalities in Bali.
So far, Gianyar is the only regency in Bali that has stayed clear of the disease.
“This year, 1,400 chickens have died suddenly, of which 1,300 were then destroyed,” Sumantra said in Denpasar, as quoted by mediaindonesia.com.
Tjandra cited other ways to reduce the spread of the disease, including reducing human contact with infected poultry, and ensuring swift diagnosis and correct treatment of humans with the disease.
“From a health standpoint, we can only warn people to not make direct contact with sick chickens and provide the necessary medical treatment for infected people,” Tjandra said.
“The problem is, we have millions of chickens in Indonesia, so we should have more comprehensive efforts to stop the spread of the animal cases.”
Deputy Agriculture Minister Bayu Krisnamurthi denied that there had been a decline in efforts to curb cases of Avian Influenza in poultry.
“We have tackled the cases by carrying out several measures such as vaccinating chickens in poultry farms and requiring that people separate poultry farms and human settlements, resulting in a decreased number of bird flu cases from 2007-2009,” he said via text message.
The former chief of the now-defunct national commission to curb bird flu said that the disease was under control.
“But it’s quite difficult to completely stop the spread of the H5N1 virus in animals,” he said, adding that the influenza virus had been first discovered in 1930 but was still around now.