NEW research has revealed an urgent need to improve biosecurity in live bird markets in Bali and Lombok to prevent future outbreaks of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI or H5N1).
Since emerging in 2003, HPAI has caused enormous poultry losses in Indonesia and has seen the country record more human HPAI-attributed deaths than any other.
Yet research by Murdoch University PhD candidate Johanna Kurscheid indicates lessons have not been learned.
“The level of biosecurity practiced at markets is extremely low. In our field observations, we saw little segmentation of bird species and frequent mixing of birds in cages, including ducks and chickens,” Ms Kurscheid says.
“This is dangerous, as ducks don’t show the same symptoms of HPAI as chickens and can be carriers. We also witnessed inadequate bird disposal, including dead birds left in cages, left next to cages or dumped into drainage areas.
“In one market in Lombok we saw birds being slaughtered in the open, which is not good practice in terms of infectious disease control, as the main way humans have contracted HPAI is through slaughter of infected birds and handling of dead birds.
“Basically, all traders engaged in a number of practices that could sustain virus circulation in live bird markets.”
Questionnaires given to vendors, collectors (traders) and customers showed a distressing lack of awareness about the causes of HPAI or concern about the virus, with fewer than half of vendors able to provide a single way in which poultry could become infected.
Even more, vendors were highly unlikely to report suspicious or sudden bird deaths, with only 15 per cent in Bali saying they would alert authorities and 27 per cent in Lombok.
Ms Kurscheid’s study also charted market interconnectedness.
“We used social network analysis, which enables the identification of markets with the highest incoming traffic—and therefore the highest potential to become infected—as well as those with the highest outgoing traffic—those most likely to spread the virus,” she says.
Ms Kurscheid’s talk, given as part of the Murdoch Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences Seminar Series, is even more vital given new research suggesting only a few mutations in the viral genome of HPAI H5N1 could facilitate human-to-human transmission, increasing the risk of a human pandemic.
“Overall, we urgently need to improve infrastructure and biosecurity in live bird markets and educate poultry traders in AI and good management practices in order to manage and prevent further HPAI N5N1-related human deaths,” Ms Kurscheid concludes.