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Indonesia's Bird Flu Variant Shows No Major Changes
posted by admin on 09/10/06

Tests on 49 samples taken from birds on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali showed the H5N1 avian influenza virus has undergone no major changes

By Karima Anjani

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The bird flu virus that's killed one person a week in Indonesia this year hasn't mutated to become more contagious to people, the country's agriculture ministry said, citing an analysis of virus samples.

Tests on 49 samples taken from birds on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali showed the H5N1 avian influenza virus has undergone no major changes, the ministry said in a statement today. The analysis was undertaken by a World Organization for Animal Health reference laboratory in Geelong, Australia.

Flu viruses make minor genetic changes when they reproduce, though most of the time they don't become more infectious in the process. Disease trackers are monitoring H5N1 to check whether it has mutated to become easily transmissible between people. Millions could die if the virus sparks a global outbreak.

The past three years, H5N1 is known to have infected 252 people in 10 countries, killing 148 of them, the World Health Organization said on Oct. 3. Almost all human cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or plucking feathers, according to the United Nations agency.

Indonesia has reported 69 human H5N1 cases, including 52 deaths, since July 2005. This year, at least 40 people have died from the virus, mostly through contact with infected fowl. About 300 million poultry are raised in backyards in the world's fourth-most-populous country.

Further Analysis

Samples of the H5N1 virus taken from birds were collected between September in 2005 and March, Elly Sawitri, an official at the agriculture ministry's avian flu center, said in a telephone interview today. Animal health authorities will dispatch samples collected in the past six months for analysis, Sawitri said.

Indonesia agreed to deposit avian flu genetic information in public databases, such as GenBank, four months ago to help scientists better track dominant variants of the virus and to speed preparations for vaccines to fight a human outbreak.

The virus may have infected as much as 27 percent of fowl and caged birds in the Southeast Asian nation, Musny Suatmodjo, Indonesia's director of animal health, said last week.

The health ministry and Singapore's Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory Ltd. are developing a diagnostic kit to speed the diagnosis of human H5N1 cases. The kit may be available within a year, Tan Kok Keng, Temasek Life's chief operating officer, told reporters in Jakarta today.

``We cannot wait any longer, we're fighting with time,'' Tan said. The kit will be developed in Indonesia using H5N1 strains collected in the country, and assisted by Temasek Life's scientists and technology.

``The kit should help make diagnosing cases faster because many patients are receiving proper treatment too late,'' Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Karima Anjani in Jakarta at kanjani@bloomberg.net .

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