House-to-house checks on bird flu begin in Indonesia

About 120 university students and health workers began testing poultry for bird flu on the resort island of Bali on Friday, officials said. I Gusti Ngurah Mahardika, a veterinary lecturer at Bali's Udayana University, said teams were going house-to-house taking samples from chickens, ducks, swans, quails and pigeons in villages on the island.

Authorities announced last month they would enlist volunteers from across the archipelago to help check poultry as part of efforts to improve monitoring and surveillance for bird flu.

The disease has killed five Indonesians this year. At least 64 people across Asia have died after contracting the virus since 2003.

The taking of samples in Bali will be completed by Nov. 25, and the lab testing will be concluded in mid-December, Mahardika said. Universities in other parts of Indonesia are scheduled to begin similar testing later this month.

The United Nations recommends the culling of infected fowl, but Indonesia has yet to do this on a large scale because of the cost of compensating farmers.

Most of the people in Asia infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu have had contact with sick birds. 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, reports the AP. I.L.

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