Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih has been closely following the apparent return of bird flu or avian influenza (H5N1) in some regions in Indonesia lately and reminded the concerned parties and the public in general to be on alert.

"We must wash our hands after touching poultry. This simple thing is the most effective way to prevent influenza, including bird flu," the minister said, adding that poultry farmers must improve hygiene.

She explained in Jakarta, on October 16, 2011 that the bird flu virus was so far still infecting some poultry but it could be transmitted to humans.

Therefore, she reminded that efforts to prevent infections are important, for instance, by keeping poultry at a distance whenever possible, always washing one`s own hands with soap, and keeping children away from dead chickens.

According to her, 30 provinces are still bird flu endemic in poultry, and only three provinces are free of the disease, namely West Kalimantan, Gorontalo and North Maluku.

To curb the bird flu problem, the health ministry has been closely collaborating with the agriculture ministry.

The ministry had also prepared 100 hospitals throughout Indonesia to handle bird flu cases which have killed around 10 people this year, a significant decrease from the previous years when tens of people died. The death rate of bird flu in this country is quite high, at around 70-80 percent.

Minister Endang confirmed that bird flu has infected poultry in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), but there was no report of human bird flu cases in the region so far.

"The virus has indeed spread among poultry. Lombok is among the bird flu endemic regions for poultry, but no human has been reported infected until now," she said.

Ahsan, veterinarian in Lombok, said on Wednesday (Oct 19), bird flu outbreak in East Lombok District, NTB Province, has spread over a wider area in Montong Gading, Labuhan Haji, and Aikmel sub districts.

In Labuhan Haji, 22 chickens died and in Aikmel 25 chickens. At least 156 chickens at three villages, namely Mujur, Mundi and Montong Godek, in Montong Betok, Montong Gading sub district, East Lombok District, had died suddenly over the past few days.

He warned local people to avoid interaction with poultry, and suggested the culling of chickens living within a certain radius from the locations of the dead chickens.

East Lombok agriculture and animal husbandry authorities consider the region to have been hit by a bird flu outbreak following the discovery of bird flu infected-chickens in the district.

The head of the East Lombok Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Office, L Khalid Tarmizi, said on Monday (Oct 16) that any sudden death of poultry must be reported to the local agriculture and animal husbandry office.

Khalid also warned local people to be alert to the disease so it would not infect humans. "It`s a must. Awareness is needed to anticipate all eventualities so that no people will contract avian influenza," Khalid said.

Head of the East Lombok Health Office`s Animal Health Section Vet Heri Rachmadi said his staff members would monitor the case continuously not only in Montong Gading sub district, but also other sub districts.

In Bali Province, two children died of bird flu virus after being treated for several days at Sanglah Regional Public Hospital, Denpasar, on October 9, 2011.

The siblings, Ald (10) and Ra (5), who were residents of Bangli District, had contact with dead fowl in their neighbourhood in Bangli district, according to information from the hospital. Before the latest cases, two people had died of bird flu in Bali between 2007-08.

To curb the possible spread of the H5N1 virus to wider areas, Bali animal husbandry authorities have taken a number of measures, including by intensifying public awareness campaigns and spraying activities.

In Gianyar District, the local animal husbandry officers sprayed disinfectant at Gianyar traditional market on October 14, 2011.

"The spraying is conducted to reduce the risk of bird flu virus that might infect buyers of chicken," Gianyar Health Office Dr. Pande Putu Wirbuana said recently.

The local health office has also made around 1,250 tablets of tamiflu ready for any human suspect of bird flu.

Sudden deaths of chicken due to bird flu were also reported in West Mamuju, where around 481 chicken had died since January to October 2011.

Of the total 481 dead chicken, 311 were found in Polman District, 125 in Mamasa, and 44 in Mamuju District, Head of the West Sulawesi Agriculture and Animal Husbandy Office Eng Muhammad Abduh said in Mamuju, recently.

He said a number of chicken had been culled to curb the spread of the virus, and the province has also established cooperation with Australia in fighting the virus.

Riau Province, Sumatra Island, is also on alert over bird flu following the deaths of around 4,200 chickens since early October 2011.

Sri Mulyani, official of the Riau animal husbandry office, said in Pekanbaru, recently that the bird flu cases are found among other things in Pekanbaru and Kampar District.

"So, we hope all residents are more careful, because bird flu could infect us any time," Sri Mulyani said.

From December 2003, outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza were reported in poultry populations in South-East Asian and beyond.

Within Asia, outbreaks of the virus were reported in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Lao People`s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The strain, identified as H5N1, has led to massive die-offs in birds, chickens and duck populations. The disease has also infected a small number of people.

The majority of the human cases are a result of direct contact of humans with infected poultry or contaminated environments.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, the cumulative number of human cases for bird flu during the 2003-2011 period reached 566 and 332 deaths globally.

The WHO data show some 179 confirmed cases in Indonesia, of which 147 proved fatal, the highest number of bird flu deaths in the world. (*)

Reporter: By Fardah
Editor: Kunto Wibisono
Copyright © ANTARA 2011