Made Arya Kencana & Fitri
Denpasar/Mataram. Health authorities in Bali said on Friday that the bird flu virus that killed two children there last week had spread to eight of nine districts on the island, while residents in neighboring Lombok are reporting similar chicken deaths.
Putu Sumantra, head of the Bali Livestock Agency, said that only Gianyar district had not reported cases of poultry dying from the disease.
“This is quite surprising, especially given how quickly the disease is spreading,” he said.
He added that the pattern of the spread of the disease was similar, although smaller in scale, to 2007, when a bird flu pandemic swept the island.
“Back then, around 4,000 birds died, but this time the figure is much smaller,” Sumantra said. “Nevertheless, the deaths of the two children is a very shocking thing to come to terms with.”
Almost 2,800 birds are confirmed to have contracted avian influenza. More than 1,300 died from the disease and a further 1,200 were culled.
“Most of the cases occurred in poultry raised on small farms,” Sumantra said. “Those on larger commercial farms tend to be vaccinated on a regular basis so aren’t as vulnerable.”
Ketut Kariyasa Adnyana, a member of the provincial legislature, expressed concern that the spread of the disease would hurt the island’s all-important tourism industry.
He also said it came at a particularly critical time, with US President Barack Obama among the clutch of world leaders scheduled to arrive in Bali for the East Asia Summit.
“The provincial and district authorities should take immediate steps to address this problem. We can’t afford to let it get out of hand,” he said.
On the neighboring tourist island of Lombok, sudden poultry deaths attributed to bird flu are also mounting.
Hundreds of chickens died on Friday at an Army dormitory in Mataram, the provincial capital, residents reported. A veterinary team from Bali has been to the site to take back tissue samples to test for avian influenza.
Patriot, a resident, said he and his neighbors had immediately buried the dead birds for fear that they had died from bird flu and that the virus could spread.
However, Retno Prayudo Yanti, head of the municipal animal hospital, said initial tests showed the chickens had probably died from Newcastle disease.
The virus that causes Newcastle disease in birds poses no serious health threat to humans, although exposure to infected poultry can lead to mild flu-like symptoms.
“But even though the initial results suggest Newcastle disease, we still need further tests before we can rule out bird flu,” Retno said.
The provincial health office also said it was not taking any chances and was urging all residents with flu-like symptoms to see a doctor immediately.
“There haven’t been any confirmed cases of bird flu among humans here recently, but this area is endemic for the disease so we have to be careful,” a spokesman for the office said.