TOPICS > Health

Experts Race to Understand Bird Flu’s Spread in Indonesia

July 3, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

IAN WILLIAMS: The village of Cilangkap had been declared free of bird flu.

CHRISTINE JOST, Adviser, U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization: That one?

IAN WILLIAMS: At least, that’s what the local authorities said. But, as Christine Jost and her team soon discovered, something was killing the backyard chickens. Many were clearly ill. Others had died suddenly, while children still played around them.

CHRISTINE JOST: You want to interview and then maybe test?

IAN WILLIAMS: Who owned the dead chicken in the gutter?

MAN (through translator): The man who owned it, I can’t recall his name. But there’s another dead chicken over there.

IAN WILLIAMS: They call a village meeting. And, wary at first, the villagers begin to describe a disease that, in the past week, has wiped out nearly all their chickens.

WOMAN (through translator): They suddenly fell from the trees dead, even though they had been so healthy earlier in the afternoon, running after food.

IAN WILLIAMS: With the aid of a hastily scrawled village map, Christine’s team try to figure out where the disease started, how it spread, and whether it is avian flu.

CHRISTINE JOST: Here as well. Were — were there problems here or only here?

We’re often talking about intelligence, like detectives, you know, gathering information, gathering intelligence, triangulating, following the lead, trying to find out where the disease is.

IAN WILLIAMS: Christine’s a veterinarian from America’s Tufts University. She leads a pilot U.N. project trying to discover the extent of the bird flu problem in Java. And early results don’t make happy reading.

CHRISTINE JOST: We’re working in 12 pilot districts. So, 78 detections in — in — in all 12 districts, that’s a huge amount of detections. That means that each team in each of their districts is finding two outbreaks of the disease a week.