Monday, December 19, 2005

News - Local tests show Indonesian boy died of bird flu


An eight-year-old Indonesian boy has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu according to local tests, a Health Ministry official said on Monday.

Hariadi Wibisono, head of a department charged with eradicating animal-borne diseases, said the local test results had yet to be confirmed by a Hong Kong laboratory affiliated with the World Health Organization.

"Based on the results, local tests show he is positive for bird flu," Wibisono told Reuters.

Indonesia has had nine deaths from bird flu confirmed by the Hong Kong laboratory and five cases where patients have survived.

Besides the boy, Indonesia is also awaiting confirmation from Hong Kong of local tests which showed a 39-year-old man died of bird flu last week.

It was unclear if the boy, who died in Jakarta last week, had contact with infected chickens, Wibisono said.

Since late 2003, the H5N1 virus is known to have killed 71 people in five Asian countries -- Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Cambodia -- and almost all are believed to have caught it from infected fowl.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain is hard for humans to catch and remains essentially a virus in birds. However, scientists fear it could mutate into a form that could pass easily from human to human.

The United Nations urged Jakarta to take steps to halt the spread of the disease.

"We are losing the battle against this particular avian influenza outbreak. It is a very nasty bird flu virus," David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for avian influenza, told Indonesian officials at a meeting in Jakarta.

"Act as though a pandemic influenza will start tomorrow. Don't think we can wait around and not worry it won't start for six months or one year," Nabarro said. "Once, it starts it is too late to prepare."

Children would be the most vulnerable group, he said.

Jakarta has designated dozens of hospitals across the country for treating patients with bird flu symptoms, set out plans to produce the anti-viral drug Tamiflu and vaccinate poultry in a bid to stop the spread of the disease.

A bird flu committee with powers to bypass the bureaucracy would be up and running soon, Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie said in the same Jakarta meeting.

"Political, financial, logistical, security and bureaucratic constraints are among the biggest threats to an effective response to a pandemic threat. I invite the best brains and expertise to join this committee," he said.

The virus is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia and has affected birds in two-thirds of the provinces in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands and 220 million people.

Indonesia has millions of chickens and ducks, many in the backyards of rural or urban homes. Since August 2003, 10 million poultry have died from the H5N1 strain or been culled.

Global Coverage Article Reuters.co.uk

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