Bird flu found in pigs in Indonesia's Bali

JAKARTA, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The H5N1 bird flu virus has infected pigs on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, a senior agriculture ministry official said on Monday.

"There were two pigs that were infected by bird flu in Bali. These were old cases that happened last July," Musni Suatmodjo, agriculture ministry director of animal health, told Reuters.

Koran Tempo newspaper had reported on the weekend that a team from the veterinary faculty at Udayana University had discovered avian influenza infected two pigs in the regencies of Gianyar and Tabanan in Bali.

It was not clear if the pigs died. Pigs are a concern because they are susceptible to many of the viruses that infect humans. Swines can act as mixing vessels in which genetic material from avian flu viruses can mix with human influenza viruses, potentially producing new and deadly strains for which humans have no immunity.

I Gusti Putu Suwandi, head of the Tabanan agriculture office, said there have not been new cases of avian influenza in the area since July. "As for the pigs' cases, we haven't received a formal report of the finding from the university," Suwandi told Reuters by telephone.

The agriculture ministry's Suatmodjo said bird flu had been detected in 30 out of 33 provinces in the country, with the latest cases in North Sulawesi province.

He said that although that was an increase from 29 provinces last year, the percentage of deaths in poultry was lower thanks to better vaccination and other control measures.

"The number of death cases in poultry due to bird flu were relatively small as commercial farms have done proper vaccination and biosecurity, but the main problems remain on the backyard farms," Suatmodjo said, referring to the many Indonesians who keep a handful of chickens at their homes.

Indonesia has become one of the frontlines in the battle against the disease. So far, 52 people have died of bird flu, the highest of any country, with the majority of deaths occurring since the beginning of this year.

Worldwide, 148 people have died of bird flu since 2003. Although the human death toll has climbed, the Indonesian government has resisted mass culling of birds, citing the expense and impracticality in a huge, populous country where keeping a few chickens or ducks in backyards is common.

Culling at selective farms and their immediate surroundings has been the preferred method. Millions of chickens and other fowl in Indonesia have died from the disease or been killed to prevent its spread since it first surfaced in the archipelago in late 2003.


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