Laboratory tests confirmed that a 25-year-old woman who died in the Indonesian capital overnight had bird flu, officials said Wednesday as they investigated the possibility that several members of a family in West Java were infected by the virus.
Health experts are closely watching possible "clusters" of cases within families or neighborhoods for signs of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Dr. Ilham Patu, a spokesman for Jakarta's infectious diseases hospital, said the government was waiting for the tests on the woman, who died late Tuesday or early Wednesday, to be confirmed by a World Health Organization-accredited laboratory in Hong Kong.
That could take several days. Until then, the government will keep its bird-flu death toll at seven.
The H5N1 bird flu virus has been ravaging poultry stocks across Asia since 2003 and has jumped to humans, killing at least 68, most in Vietnam and Thailand.
In related developments:
China has confirmed three human cases of bird flu,.
China, which has the world's largest number of chickens, has called bird flu a serious epidemic.
Most human cases of the disease have been traced to contact with infected birds. But experts fear a human flu pandemic if the virus mutates into a form that passes easily between people.
Patu said authorities were alarmed by the deaths of two brothers of a 16-year-old who came down with bird flu in Bandung, the capital of West Java province.
The two boys died before doctors took samples from them, so it was not clear if they if they had been infected by the virus.
The 16-year-old remained hospitalized Wednesday.
"Whatever happens, he must get better," said his father, Dahli, who like many Indonesians uses a single name. "He is all I have left. He's my only hope."
Agricultural officials said they would test people and birds near the family's home to see if they had the disease. They noted that hundreds of chickens in the area had died.
Meanwhile, China is being open about its bird flu outbreaks, not covering them up, but there are fears that incompetent officials in poor, rural areas may not detect cases as quickly as they should, the health minister said Wednesday.
"I am not afraid of local governments in China covering up the epidemic situation," said Gao Qiang, China's health minister. "What I am afraid of is the low level of competency and technical expertise of hospitals, clinics and medical personnel at the grass-roots level."
Authorities culled more than 118,000 poultry within a two-mile radius as a precaution, it said. The Xinjiang region has previously reported outbreaks.
"Bird flu is mostly occurring in rural areas, and sometimes in very remote mountainous areas where local health conditions are very poor and where local health staff are not very competent," Gao said. "I am afraid those people will not be able to identify, diagnose and treat the epidemic early enough."
Gao said the government must step up training in those areas to control the spread of the disease.
The H5N1 virus has resulted in the deaths of at least 68 people and more than 100 million birds in Asia since 2003.