|Indonesian Officials Test|
Zoo Workers for Bird Flu
September 19, 2005 4:55 a.m.
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Health officials tested workers at a popular zoo in the Indonesian capital for avian flu on Monday, after rare eagles, peacocks and other birds were infected by the virus, forcing authorities to close the establishment.
Meanwhile, four children suspected of contracting the disease were being treated at Jakarta's infectious diseases hospital. Blood samples from the victims have been sent to Hong Kong for testing, the health minister said.
Authorities said the children -- two of whom are in serious condition in the hospital's intensive-care unit – aren't believed to have contracted the virus at the zoo.
1 PREVENTING A PANDEMIC
See complete coverage2 of avian flu, including an interactive graphic on the science of the virus3 and a look back at major flu epidemics4.
The developments highlighted Indonesia's continuing struggle against bird flu, which is endemic in chicken flocks across the sprawling island nation and has killed four humans since July.
The H5N1 bird flu virus has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds. It has also jumped to humans, killing at least 63 people.
Young children are particularly vulnerable to the disease, and news that birds -- including rare eagles, herons and peacocks -- were infected at Ragunan Zoo in south Jakarta is a particular cause for alarm.
The 19 were from a sample of 27 birds that were randomly tested earlier this month.
On Monday, health workers took blood from employees at the zoo for testing as a precautionary measure. "It is to give them reassurance," said zoo spokesman Titis Sari Puntorini. All the birds at the zoo were due to be tested later Monday, Mr. Puntorini said.
Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono said infected birds with no conservation value would be slaughtered. Rare birds with the virus would be given medicine, while uninfected ones would be vaccinated, he said.
"If we give them medicine, there is a possibility they can be cured," Mr. Puntorini said.
The zoo, Jakarta's largest, will be closed for three weeks.
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, possibly triggering a deadly global pandemic.
The latest suspected bird flu case was a girl who lived near a poultry farm on the northern outskirts of Jakarta. She was admitted to the infectious diseases hospital early Monday, said the hospital's deputy director, Sardikin, who goes by only one name.
Copyright (c) 2005 The Associated Press
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