Indonesia confirmed its ninth human death from bird flu Tuesday, as a WHO official supported the government in saying culling backyard chickens was not the way to tackle the disease. Tests from a laboratory in Hong Kong showed that a 35-year-old man who died last month in the capital Jakarta had the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Hariadi Wibisono, a senior Health Ministry official.
"I have just received confirmation," he said, adding that the victim, identified only by his initials A.R., had a history of contact with poultry. He had no other details.
The H5N1 bird flu virus has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia since 2003, and jumped to humans killing at least 70, most of them in Vietnam and Thailand. Almost all human cases of the disease have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between people, sparking a pandemic.
Indonesia's cash-strapped government has come under fire for failing to carry out mass culls in infected areas, one of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's most basic containment guidelines.
But the World Health Organization's director for Southeast Asia said while killing birds on industrial poultry farms was an effective way to stop the disease's spread, slaughtering backyard birds was not. Some governments cannot afford to compensate villagers for mass culls, said Samlee Plianbangchang during a brief visit to Indonesia, and in other places killing animals goes against cultural or religious beliefs. "Therefore culling is not the answer," he said, reports the AP. I.L.