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Eight Indonesian villages hit by new birdflu outbreak
Updated: 2004-10-26 16:02

Thousands of fowl have died from bird flu in eight villages at the western end of Indonesia's main island of Java in recent weeks, prompting affected districts to order vaccinations, officials said on Tuesday.

Sporadic attacks of bird-flu have hit parts of the sprawling archipelago since the disease emerged nearly a year ago, with Java island the worst affected, but the government has insisted that overall the sickness is under control.

"The tests concluded that the fowls have died from bird flu," said Cahyan Sofyan, the district head of the animal husbandry office for Pandeglang regency in Banten province.

Sofyan said around 12,000 fowl died in the last month in the eight villages on small chicken farms that have also struggled with Newcastle disease.

He added that the spread of the disease may have been caused by villagers who threw the carcasses into a nearby river.

The Indonesian government has said bird flu is endemic and that it would take another three years to fully stamp out the H5N1 strain that has ravaged other countries in the region, killing 32 people and tens of millions of fowl.

None of the human casualties reported so far have been in Indonesia and officials say there is no evidence the disease has spread to people in the country.

However, around 16 million fowl have died from bird flu or Newcastle disease or been killed to contain the diseases in Indonesia since the end of last year, out of a population of around one billion fowl, the agriculture ministry says.

Indonesian government policy is to vaccinate rather than cull in affected areas in a bid to stop the spread of bird flu, due to lack of funds to compensate farmers for culled chickens.

International health authorities, including the World Health Organisation, question the effectiveness of vaccines and say culling is the best weapon against the disease.

The agriculture ministry said bird flu may also have spread because of a lack of biosecurity facilities at the porous borders of Indonesia, which stretches for thousands of miles and includes some 17,000 islands.

"To prevent the spreading of bird flu from one district to another, or from one island to another, then the role of animal quarantine at the entry gate is crucial," Agus Heriyanto, head of animal health at the agriculture ministry, told Reuters.

To prevent the disease from flaring up again in Banten, the district animal husbandry office has forbidden farmers to restock too quickly and ordered inspection at local traditional markets.

Unlike bird flu, Newcastle disease can be fatal to poultry but causes at worst a minor illness in humans.

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