Indonesia asks troops to fight bird flu

Indonesia has called on the military to help fight bird flu, a day after a young girl became the country's sixth victim this month.

In Azerbaijan, officials feared a return of the H5N1 bird flu virus after a 14-year-old boy was sent to hospital as a suspected case.

Adding to global worries, Japanese officials were awaiting test results to confirm if the virus had killed poultry at a farm in the south, while Vietnam is trying to control the disease spreading among birds in the Mekong Delta.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered the military chief to deploy soldiers to help fight the disease, Cabinet Secretary Sudi Silalahi told reporters.

"He called on governors, regents, mayors to be more active in leading efforts to fight bird flu in affected areas," Silalahi said after ministers held talks with Yudhoyono.

The sense of alarm was highlighted by the country's welfare minister earlier in the day.

"Even though our continued effort is giving some significant progress, we are still on highest alert," Aburizal Bakrie, said at a ceremony to receive 100,000 sets of protective equipment donated by the United States.

Indonesia has the highest bird flu death toll and is stepping up efforts to stamp out the disease after a flare up in cases this year.

"Indonesia is very serious in addressing this threat," Bakrie said a day after a six year-old girl died - Indonesia's 63rd victim of the disease that has killed 164 people globally since 2003.

He said the government had succeeded in containing human infections in nine of the 30 high risk provinces.

The disease, however, remains endemic in fowl in some of the most densely populated parts of Indonesia, including Java.

In Azerbaijan, health authorities said the 14-year-old boy's sister was one of five people who died last year in an outbreak of H5N1 in the former Soviet republic between Turkey and Russia.

A health ministry official said tests by a laboratory in Azerbaijan were negative for bird flu and doctors were awaiting results from a laboratory in London that is endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The first outbreak of bird flu in the European Union this year was confirmed on Wednesday after the Commission said the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain had been detected in geese in Hungary.

EU governments have approved security measures taken by Hungary against the spread of the virus detected in the south-east of the country, saying the outbreak likely stemmed from wild birds. Russia has banned poultry imports from Hungary to prevent the spread of the bird flu virus, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The WHO says bird flu has infected 269 people worldwide since late 2003, not including the latest death in Indonesia. Experts fear the more the virus spreads in birds, the greater the chances it might mutate into a form that causes a flu pandemic in humans. Millions of people could die.

Japan confirmed another case of H5 bird flu at a poultry farm in the south-western prefecture of Miyazaki on Friday, an agriculture ministry official said. Further tests were needed to confirm if the virus was H5N1.

Earlier this month, Japan suffered its first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in poultry in more than three years. No human infections have been reported.

In southern Vietnam, the virus has flared up in seven provinces and a city since last month, but the spread of the disease has slowed in recent days.

Animal health officials said the danger was still very high because authorities were unable to stop farmers letting their ducks roam rice fields to eat spilt grain.

Ducks can carry the H5N1 virus without showing symptoms and the waterfowl has been the main source for outbreaks in the country where 42 people have died of the disease since 2003. Vietnam has not detected any human cases since November 2005. (


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