Indonesia’s zoo shuts after 19 birds die of bird flu

The main zoo in Indonesia's capital was shut down after 19 of its birds died of the avian influenza that has killed four people in the sprawling country, doctors and government officials said Sunday. Three patients, meanwhile, were being treated as suspected bird flu cases at the Sulianti Saroso infectious disease hospital, said Dr. Santoso Suroso, who was awaiting lab tests to confirm whether or not they had the illness. The H5N1 strain of bird flu virus has swept through poultry populations in large swathes of Asia since 2003, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds and 63 people, including a 37-year-old woman who died last week in Indonesia. So far, most human cases have been traced to direct contact with infected birds, but health experts have warned that the virus could mutate and become easily communicable from human to human, triggering a deadly global pandemic.

Young children appear to be especially vulnerable to the disease. Rusman, an Agriculture Ministry official who goes by one name, said Sunday that 19 chickens and other birds died of bird flu at the Ragunan Zoo in south part of the capital, Jakarta, and that it would be closed for at least three weeks pending an investigation. Birds that test positive for the disease will be killed, and all others will be vaccinated to protect them from the deadly virus, he said.

Indonesia recorded its first human fatalities from bird flu in July when a father and his two daughters died after contracting the virus. Officials have linked those deaths to droppings from an infected bird. Officials have carried out limited vaccinations of some of the estimated 2 billion birds in the country, but say they lack funds to carry out culls of flocks in areas where the virus is prevalent.

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