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Bird flu resurfaces and spreads in Southeast Asia

Updated On: Aug 04, 2006

Bird flu has struck again, in LaosThailand and possibly in Vietnam.

In Laos, the infected farm is found within the same area that was contaminated with the virus in early 2004.  In Thailand, a 17-year old youth died of bird flu in the Phichit province in the lower northern part of the country.  This was Thailand’s first human death in over 7 months. And in Vietnam, a 42-year old man had high fever after eating duck meat, prompting provincial hospital there to treat it as suspected bird flu infection.

Thailand has stepped up border surveillance at its border adjoining MyanmarCambodia and Laos to prevent further escalation of the outbreak in Thailand. Meanwhile, Thailand has pointed the finger at Laos for contaminating their livestock with infected egg trays. 'We are at high risk,' Thailand's Livestock Development chief Yukol Limlaemthong said, after 310,000 hens were slaughtered in northeastern Thailand.  

The Bangkok Post has other ideas about this. It cites cover-ups by local officials in Thailand as the main reason for the proliferation of the virus in the North. According to the Bangkok Post, “little of this [public accountability] happened in Phichit, Uttaradit and the surrounding provinces. Investigations remain to be completed, but it appears local authorities even colluded with villagers to cover-up initial reports of avian flu.” The Post compared Bangkok’s accusations at Laoswith other accusations of Thailand as a proliferator of AIDS through its infamous sex trade or malaria.

In order to prevent more finger-pointing, Thailand has offered to help Laos stamp out the virus, but Laos cancelled the planned bilateral meeting on bird flu between the two countries.  

Meanwhile the place with the worst bird flu situation, Indonesia, is beginning to appreciate the extermination solution more, given its deteriorating situation. At least this is the case with Jembrana, Bali. Animal health officials here said they had burned almost 1,300 chickens after the virus was discovered on the popular resort island. Workers and local residents also burned a further 450 sick birds living within three kilometers (two miles) from the outbreak. The strong measures taken so promptly could be due to the fact that Bali is a crucial part of the Indonesian economy as a world-famous resort island, generating tourist dollars. It cannot afford to have a serious bird flu outbreak as this might impact tourism. Tourist numbers in Bali had been hit by two terrorist attacks, and fears of natural disaster, and Bali does not need another headline that would scare tourists further away.

However, even here in Bali, the resistance against culling continues as officials recently gave 200,000 vaccine doses to backyard farmers in Jembrana, Bali. The culling in Bali is only transitional according to I Gusti Ngurah Sanjaya, head of the district's animal health office in Jembrana, Bali. He said: "There are none [human casualties] reported so far but clearly we are concerned about this and that's why we are conducting preemptive measures."

Sanjaya, however, continues to argue against mass culling the 1.5 million chickens (mostly reared in backyards) in Jembrana or the overall 5 million chickens (most kept in backyards) in the resort island. Such arguments are prevalent in Indonesia and continue to go against the recommendations of the UN and also the preferred prescription already implemented faithfully in Vietnam and Thailand. The Indonesian government cites financial constraints in favor of its preferred option of vaccination instead.

Sources:

Indonesia kills chickens in bird flu fight (ANTARA, 2 August 2006)

Flu cover-ups can be deadly (Bangkok Post, 2 August 2006)

Thailand sending team to help Laos stamp out bird flu (Reuters, 1 August 2006)

New Asia outbreaks fan fears bird flu spreading (Straits Times, 3 August 2006)

Scramble to contain bird flu after outbreaks hit region (Straits Times, 3 August 2006)