05/26/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Two more bird flu-related deaths in Indonesia

Tests to find the possible cause for human-to-human transmission in the same family continue. Many poultry farmers continue unconcerned about possible infection.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two more bird flu-related deaths in Indonesia after tests found that two siblings who died a few days ago in western Java were infected by the H5N1 virus, this according to Nyoman Kandun, head of the Health Ministry's Office of Communicable Disease Control.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) official said that the mother, the first of seven members of an extended family to die from the infection in the village of Kubu Sembelang, may have come into contact with sick or dead chickens before possibly passing the virus on to relatives.

Tests on birds in the family's home village have all come back negative.

"We believe she may have had some contact either with dead or dying chickens in her household or through her activities as a vegetable grower and a seller in a market," said Steven Bjorge.

The WHO team leader in the village added that the members of her family were in close physical proximity while they were sick, including sleeping near one another.

It remains unclear though how the virus spread among them—whether it was through respiration, food, contact with infected surfaces or a combination of these vectors, WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said in Geneva.

Other experts have not excluded the possibility that certain family members might have had a genetic weakness to the disease.

The people, 33 in all, who have come in contact with members of this family have been placed in quarantine.

Despite experts' questions about the disease, poultry farmers in Indonesia continue disregarding the threat and the most basic precautionary steps against it.

"At least two or more [chickens] die every day. Most of them show blue marks on their bodies before they die," said Rustam, a poultry farmer in North Sumatra, not far from the Karo district where Kubu Sembelang is located.

Like many in his profession, he wears no protective gear when handling sick chicken.

Asked if he was concerned about the bird flu virus, he said there was no need to worry because he had not suffered a serious illness for the past 12 years in the business.

Many chicken farmers in the province are equally dismissive of the threat of bird flu from handling poultry. And yet provincial authorities last year found 15,882 chickens and quails dead of the virus.

"The bird flu scare in North Sumatra reduced poultry production by up to 70 percent last year," said I Gusti Ketut Sastrawan, an adviser to the North Sumatra Poultry Breeders Association. But "[t]he impact this year has been smaller. [. . .] The bird flu outbreak in Karo has not affected total poultry sales in North Sumatra thus far. Everything is running as usual". (PB)

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