Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

July 28, 2006

International community driving blindfolded in Indonesia flu battle

Filed under: avian influenza,Neglected diseases — admin @ 7:17 pm

Indonesia is the world’s current hotspot of avian flu, with the concomitant risk of emergence of a pandemic flu strain. Despite this risk, almost no avian flu poultry isolates have gone from Indonesia to the joint FAO/OIE network of national and international reference laboratories since summer 2005, I reveal in a short article tonight.

Some excerpts from the article:

“”We have had no sequence data from poultry viruses for Indonesia for almost a year; since last August,” says Peter Roeder, a consultant for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Indonesia. “It just happened; no one was sending any samples,” he says.”

“Experts say that without thorough genetic sequencing of bird viruses from the area it is difficult to tell whether the virus is mutating, or how the human cases correspond to birds in the area. There have been some human viruses found in Java that so far have no obvious avian counterparts: perhaps simply because matching strains in birds have not been sequenced, or perhaps not.”

“Only now has a batch of such samples finally arrived at the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reference library in Geelong, Australia. “Good news: more than 100 animal isolates ready to go,” reads a report from an international expert consultation on combating H5N1 in Indonesia, held in Jakarta in late June. Some 91 of these samples have now arrived, says Roeder.”

“Reporting of poultry results from Indonesia is “inadequate”, with “specimens going into a ‘black box'”, read the Jakarta meeting documents, adding that “this lack of information on avian H5N1 viruses requires urgent attention.””

The article also reveals how a pilot surveillance scheme involving 12 teams around Jakarta has picked up, on average, some 24 previously undetected infected villages a week, since the start of the year. The scheme, which is now being rolled out across the archipelago risks quickly changing current maps of official outbreaks in the country:

“The community surveillance system is starting to work,“ says Roeder, “and bear in mind that here we were looking only at one small part of Java, there is a lot more H5N1 out there than is reflected in the official disease reporting system.”

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