Jakarta’s satay sellers fall victim to anthrax scare

Business has dropped by 40 per cent for some food sellers in the capital as Indonesians shun beef and mutton because of the outbreak of anthrax.

Indonesians are shying away from one of the country’s favourite foods – satay.

There has been a sharp 40 per cent drop in the consumption of satay – and other beef and mutton dishes – because of a health scare caused by the outbreak of the anthrax disease.

Mr Heru Satria, 30, who sells satay off a pushcart in a kaki lima or side-street along the busy Jalan Sabang in Central Jakarta – a popular eating spot with many Indonesians, especially at night – said many people visiting the area now preferred to eat fish, poultry and vegetables.

“Business has never been so bad,” he lamented as he placed small pieces of chicken meat on a skewer.

“Look. I only get a few customers now. But they only want chicken satay. Some of them tell me that they do not want to eat from my stall anymore because they are afraid to die. I will die if they stop eating satay forever!”

Sitting a few metres away on a wooden bench next to another kaki lima were Mrs Nunung Widowati and her son Agusta. They were tucking into a plate of nasi campur – steamed rice, chilli, soya cake, bean curd and fried fish – for lunch.

The 44-year-old housewife used to eat at Mr Heru’s stall until two weeks ago but stopped when she heard of contamination in meat products.

“My son loves satay,” she said of her bespectacled eight-year-old son. “I won’t allow him to eat satay anymore. It is too dangerous.”

She hails from Bogor, in West Java, and had first-hand information of the disease because the outbreak originated there last month.

“I heard from my family that many cows were infected badly. People also died after eating contaminated meat,” she said. Health authorities sounded the alarm bells in Jakarta because of Bogor’s proximity to the capital, which normally gets its local meat supply there. The authorities said two people had died and at least a dozen others were in a serious condition because of the anthrax disease.

Anthrax usually spreads to people from animals, especially cows, goats and sheep. Infection is usually through the skin but it can also occur from eating contaminated meat.

Mr Mangku Sitepoe, a senior researcher in the Health Ministry, said that satay was particularly hazardous because the meat was usually not thoroughly cooked.

“It’s best the people avoid satay for now. The middle portion of the meat in the skewer is rarely grilled properly.”

Satay seller Ali Shukor, who like most others complained of a 40 per cent drop in business, said that the meat “will not taste the same if it is cooked too much”.

Said the 30-year-old Madurese, who runs a food stall in Pondok Indah in South Jakarta: “We can follow the advice of the experts. But some of my customers will complain if the meat is too well done and go elsewhere to eat. Either way, I lose.” The satay sellers are not alone in their misery. Most restaurants and food sellers in kaki limas have scaled down red meat dishes because of the anthrax scare.

Dishes like bakso or meatball soup and beef rendang are no longer popular, but there are still those who will eat them because they are cheap. Noted gardener Upeh: “I am a poor man … The important thing is that my stomach is full.”

KILLER DISEASE: Spreads to humans from animals

* ANTHRAX usually spreads to people from animals, especially cows, goats and sheep. Dormant bacteria can live in the soil and in animal products such as wool for decades.
* Although infection in people is usually through the skin, it can also occur from eating contaminated meat or inhaling spores.
* Symptoms may appear 12 hours or five days after exposure to the bacteria. A skin infection begins as a lump that grows, swelling at the edges. It blisters and hardens before bursting at the centre and oozing a clear fluid. It then forms a black scab.
* Lymph nodes in the affected area may swell. The person may feel ill, sometimes experiencing muscle aches, headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting.
* Pulmonary anthrax results from inhaling the spores of the anthrax bacterium. The spores multiply in the lymph nodes near the lung. The lymph nodes
then start to break down and bleed, spreading the infection to the chest.
* At first, the symptoms are similar to that of flu. But when the fever worsens, breathing difficulties develop, followed by shock and coma.
* Even with early treatment, the disease is incurable.

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