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New Bird Flu Death In Indonesia

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:

  • Further tests show avian influenza was rife on a farm where a duck tested positive for the virus, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday. "The ability of avian influenza virus to quickly spread and amplify in such conditions is precisely why we activated pre-emptive depopulation policy as soon as the virus was first detected," said agency spokesman Mark Clarke.
  • The United States has relaxed a ban on poultry imports from British Columbia initially sparked by the discovery of bird flu in a duck raised in the Canadian province. The strain of bird flu is now known to be low-pathogenic and poses no threat to human health, unlike the more virulent form in Asia that has killed dozens of people, the Agriculture Department said.
  • This year's supply of flu vaccine will reach 80 million doses by the beginning of December — a robust supply considering the United States has never administered more than 83 million doses in a single year. Still, many health care providers complain that they can't get the vaccine, or they can't get enough to meet demand — and they're right, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
  • Vietnam will continue a campaign to poison wild pigeons in an effort to contain bird flu, an official said Wednesday, despite a U.N. warning that governments should stay focused on halting the virus in poultry stocks. Authorities in southern Ho Chi Minh City this week began killing pigeons in school yards, parks and other public places to try to minimize the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus, said Phan Xuan Thao, deputy director of the city animal health department.
  • Japan will cull 110,000 free-range chickens suspected of having a mild form of bird flu, officials said Saturday. The birds will be killed at a farm in Ogawa in northern Japan's Ibaraki state, where hundreds of thousands of birds have been destroyed at dozens of other farms over the past few months following bird flu outbreaks involving the H5N2 virus, which Japanese officials say has never been confirmed to infect humans.
  • North Korea said Monday it was strengthening quarantine measures at all points of entry to the communist state to prevent the possible spread of bird flu. North Korea has been on alert against bird flu with a spate of fresh outbreaks reported abroad, including in neighboring China. Last week, Beijing reported its first human death from the disease.
  • On Wednesday, China reported its 25th outbreak of bird flu in poultry since Oct. 19. The latest case was in Xinyuan, a county in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang, where 300 birds died on Nov. 24, state media said.

    China has confirmed three human cases of bird flu, China including two fatalities.

    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.

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