Bird Flu's Human Toll Increases

A Chinese women pluck the feathers of chickens at a fowl market in Beijing Tuesday Oct. 25, 2005. Health officials say direct contact with poultry slaughtering, butchering and cooking preparations or surfaces contaminated by their droppings are the main cause of human infections.
The human death toll from bird flu inched higher Tuesday as Indonesia reported its fourth fatal case, while officials said China's second outbreak of the virus in a week infected more than 2,000 geese and killed about 500 in the country's east.

Meanwhile, countries in the Asia Pacific region continued to increase precautionary measures against the potentially deadly pandemic experts say bird flu could cause, and fears continued to grow that the virus is spreading in Europe.

Dead wild geese in western Germany showed preliminary positive test results for a form of bird flu, a local health official said Tuesday, but they died from poisoning, not the virus.

Further tests would be needed to confirm the virus and to tell whether it was the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Stefan Brent, president of the bureau carrying out the testing at a press conference in Koblenz in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz.

Brent said that some 5 percent of wild birds could be expected to carry some form of bird flu, and called the results of the tests "no sensational find."

Investigators found evidence of rat poison in the stomachs of 12 of the 22 dead geese, he said, adding that preliminary tests showed the birds also had flu virus. But the likely cause of death was the poison, he said.

The latest Indonesian victim, a 23-year-old man from West Java, was hospitalized in late September and died two days later, said Hariadi Wibisono, a Ministry of Health official. A Hong Kong lab confirmed the test results on Monday.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in many parts of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing more than 60 people. Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds.

Bird flu sickened 2,100 geese in China's eastern province of Anhui and killed about a quarter of them, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

The Agriculture Ministry confirmed on Monday that the birds died of the H5N1 virus near Tianchang city, said Noureddin Mona, the China representative for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.