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400 Indonesian Students Begin House-to-House Hunt for Bird Flu

400 Indonesian Students Begin House-to-House Hunt for Bird Flu

BOGOR, Indonesia
At least 400 Indonesian university students are going house-to-house to check for bird flu in chickens that people keep in their backyards, said university officials last month.

The students, from four universities in Java and Bali, are among up to 1,000 veterinary students and other volunteers that the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization says are taking part in a “military-like” door-to-door campaign.

They are looking for infected chickens in the densely populated island of Java, which is the source of most of Indonesia’s human bird flu infections so far, as well as the neighboring Sulawesi and Sumatra islands. The campaign began on Nov. 7 and will run until mid-December.

“We have been preparing our students since Sep. 27,” says Dr. Charles Ranggatabbu of the Yogyakarta-based Gajah Mada University.

He expressed doubts over the effectiveness of vaccinating healthy chickens found among infected ones.

“Ideally, if found infected, the backyard chickens should be stamped out instead of selective culling,” Ranggatabbu says.

Heru Setiganto, the dean of the veterinary faculty at Bogor Agricultural Institutes, notes that it was easier to control bird flu in commercial farms than in backyard chickens because of a lack of public awareness.

“The people have to be aware of the danger of this disease,” Setiganto says. “They have to be involved because we cannot do it alone.”

The government has allotted a total of 12.5 billion rupiah (US$1.25 million) for a separate campaign to train about 2,720 volunteers who will vaccinate poultry in provinces where the bird flu virus has been found.

Indonesian authorities have vowed to step up their battle against the virus, which has killed four people and sickened three others in the country this year. The virus has killed more than 60 people across Asia since late 2003.

Most of the people infected with the H5N1 strain of the bird flu have had contact with sick birds. International health experts fear that if the disease mutates into a form that is easily transmissible between people, it could spark a pandemic, possibly killing millions.

— Associated Press

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