Indonesia will intensify surveillance of wild birds to determine their suspected role in transmitting the H5N1 avian influenza virus, the country's agriculture minister said Tuesday. The government has vowed to step up efforts to tackle the spread of the disease, taking a hard look at backyard chickens and domestic birds, believed to be the source of infection for Indonesia's human victims.
The virus, which has killed four people and sickened three others in the country, has taken more than 60 lives across Asia since late 2003. Hundreds of millions of birds have also been killed or slaughtered.
International health experts fear that if the virus mutates into a form that is easily transmissible between people, it could spark a pandemic, possibly killing millions.
Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono said he would start working with the Forestry and Environment Ministries "to do research on wild birds and uncaged domestically raised birds." That would include looking at domestically bred pigeons, he said, though he provided few details about the joint-research proposal. A pigeon in Jakarta's eastern suburb of Bekasi recently tested positive for the deadly H5N1 virus, forcing the cull of 50 other birds, Apriyantono said.
Apriyantono earlier said that discovery was alarming because of the birds' potential to spread the disease. "We can all imagine how long and how far pigeons can fly," he said over the weekend.
Apriyantono said inter-ministerial cooperation was essential because laws and regulations allow his ministry only to do surveillance on sick poultry. The Environment Ministry has the right to look at domestic birds, while Forestry Ministry oversees wild birds, reports the AP. I.L.