Indonesian Health Ministry officially announced the two latest H5N1 deaths. Muhammed Narin of the Health Ministry’s bird flu centre said the girl from Kendal Regency in Central Java died four days after being admitted to hospital. According to the Jakarta Post the official told Reuters “She had been handling a dead chicken, which she was preparing to cook”. Other reports from AFP claimed four out of a small flock of six chickens at her home had died without warning on 12 May and the victim had cooked and eaten one of the birds.

In Grobogan Regency (also Central Java) a 45 year old man of Ringinharjo village in Gubug District died at Moewardi hospital in Surakarta on 28 May two days after admission. Palty Siregar, head of the Grobogan regency health office, told the Jakarta Post he contracted the virus after unexplained deaths of 400 chickens in his village. The team was also testing an official at the Gubug community centre who was treating the man.

H5N1 is clearly endemic in Indonesian poultry and the authorities appear to have given up identifying, logging and reporting outbreaks. Last outbreak reported to the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) for posting on their daily H5 update was August 2006. With seemingly little action being taken against the disease in poultry tragic reports of human deaths particularly in rural areas with backyard flocks and close human contact are to be expected.

After banning the popular practice of keeping backyard poultry in big cities like Jakarta, the Government is making efforts to educate and equip rural populations but sadly it appears not enough. Reports by AFP say officials have started to distribute kits containing masks, gloves and bars of soap to 100,000 villages so that people can take some precautions. First distribution was made in Tenggulun Timur village, a high risk area in West Java.