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Bird Flu Deaths in Indonesia Fuel Concern Over Disease Control
posted by admin on 15/05/06

May 15 (Bloomberg)

At least five Indonesians from North Sumatra province are suspected to have died in recent weeks from bird flu, a World Health Organization official said, fueling concern over the country's ability to halt the virus in poultry.

An Indonesian laboratory found five relatives from the province's Karo district were fatally infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus, Sari Setiogi, a WHO spokeswoman in Jakarta, said yesterday. A Hong Kong laboratory will conduct confirmatory tests, she said. A sixth person who also died will be tested.

Representatives from the WHO, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and Asia-Pacific government officials are meeting this week in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, to discuss food security, poverty and preparing for disasters, such as a flu pandemic.

World health officials are concerned the lethal H5N1 avian flu virus, which has infected more than 200 people in the past year, may mutate into a form that's easily spread among humans, touching off a pandemic similar to the one in 1918 that killed as many as 50 million people. A cluster of H5N1 infections may signal the virus is becoming more contagious to people.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 115 of 208 people known to have been infected since late 2003, the Geneva-based WHO said on May 12. This year, 39 people are confirmed to have died from H5N1, almost as many as the 41 fatalities reported in the whole of 2005. More than a third of this year's fatal cases have come from Indonesia.


Indonesia, the world's fourth-most-populous nation, has had outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry in 26 of its 33 provinces. Diseased fowl increases the risk for humans and create opportunities for the virus to mutate.

Avian flu in poultry poses a greater risk to humans in Indonesia, where people and birds live side by side in rural and urban areas. Thirty million households in Indonesian villages keep more than 200 million chickens in backyards, according to the FAO.

Since July, 33 people are confirmed by the WHO to have been infected. Of those, 25 have died. If confirmed, the five North Sumatra cases will bring to one a week the number of new H5N1 infections being reported in Indonesia each week since September.

The suspected cases comprise two men, two women and an 8- year-old girl who lived closely with each other and shared the same ancestry, Agence France-Presse reported yesterday, citing I Nyoman Kandun, director general of disease control with the Indonesian Health Ministry.

The five had been in contact with sick poultry and pigs near their homes before they fell ill and died within days of each other over the past three weeks, AFP reported. Three other people from the group also tested positive, the report said.

Possible Genetic Role

Some people are more susceptible to avian flu than others, suggesting human genetics may play a role in infection, Robert Webster, the Rosemary Thomas professor at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, said. A few people have shown to be ``extraordinarily sensitive'' to H5N1 and that trait may run in families on the maternal side, he said this month.

Almost all human H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or taking off the feathers, according to the WHO. Cooking meat and eggs properly kills the virus.

The Indonesian government in Jakarta is struggling to implement measures to control avian flu at the district level, Shigeru Omi, the WHO's director for the Western Pacific region, said earlier this month.

Avian flu controls in Indonesia, which successfully eradicated foot-and-mouth disease in cattle in the 1970s, have suffered because the government doesn't have enough people to monitor the spread of the virus in poultry. A law that came into effect in 2001 gave power to provinces and regencies with little supervision from the national government in Jakarta.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Jason Gale in Singapore at

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