Indonesia has detected its first outbreak of bird flu in tsunami-ravaged Aceh province, where hundreds of chickens have died from the disease, officials said Thursday. Sjamsul Bahri, the Agriculture Ministry's director of animal health, said relief workers apparently brought birds infected with the H5N1 strain of the virus to Aceh in recent weeks. Hundreds of chickens have died in the provincial capital Banda Aceh and two other districts, he said.
Infected areas have been isolated and all birds, healthy and sick, killed to prevent the disease's spread, he said. Bird flu has now been found in 23 of Indonesia's 30 provinces.
Its emergence in Aceh, where tens of thousands of people still live in crowded refugee camps following the Dec. 26 tsunami, could add to people's hardships. But health workers said the province is no more vulnerable to the deadly disease than other parts of the sprawling archipelago.
Bird flu has killed or forced the culling of hundreds of millions of birds in Asia since 2003 and has jumped to humans, resulting in the deaths of at least 67 people, seven of them in Indonesia.
Experts have warned that the virus may mutate into a form that's easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions globally.
Thousands of international aid workers poured into Aceh following last year's tsunami, which killed a staggering 130,000 people in the province and left another half-million homeless. Relief workers continue to deliver food and other supplies to the region, reports the AP. I.L.