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General Health : Infectious Disease Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Bird Flu Toll Hits 49 in Indonesia
By Sara Andrews
Sep 13, 2006 - 10:10:00 AM

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13 Sep, ( - The World Health Organization confirmed a 5-year-old Indonesian boy had succumbed to the lethal H5N1 bird flu virus six months ago taking the total deaths from avian influenza to 49.

Sari Setiogi, a WHO spokeswoman in Jakarta said the boy's death was included in the bird flu fatalities after a revision of the definition for human cases of the H5N1 avian influenza strain.

The boy, from Bekasi in West Java, died from the H5N1 infection after tests by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta returned positive, said Runizar Ruesin, head of the health ministry's avian flu information center.

The Health Ministry said no one else in the boy's family was known to have been infected with the bird flu virus. It is not clear how the boy got the infection. Indonesia has now recorded 64 cases of H5N1 infection, of which 49 have proved fatal.

Last month the country overtook Vietnam as having the world's highest death toll from avian influenza.

Health experts have criticized Indonesia for failing to take strict measures to curb bird flu. The country did not sanction culling poultry until the situation nearly got out of hand. The government has defended itself by claiming that it does not have enough money to compensate farmers and hence cannot take up culling operations on a large scale.

In May, the World Health Organization confirmed partial human-to-human transmission in seven members of a bird flu cluster family. The problem in Indonesia is that many local governments have refused to carry out mass poultry slaughters and vaccinations have had limited effect at best.

According to World Health Organization figures 143 humans have so far fallen a victim to H5N1 virus. Around 49 of these deaths have occurred in Indonesia and 42 in Vietnam. Bird flu has reemerged in Thailand and two deaths were reported in the last few weeks.

Health experts say Indonesia remains a weak link in the global fight against possible bird flu pandemic.

The bird flu virus first surfaced in Asia in 1997 and then again resurfaced in 2003. Since then it has spread rapidly across Asia and Europe as well as Africa. Till now the virus has only been transmitted after close contact with infected birds and coming in contact with saliva, nasal secretions, and feces.

The fear is that if the virus mutates to an easily transmissible form between humans it would trigger a pandemic worldwide. Till date all human cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds.

Although the cause of the bird flu infection in the 5-year-old boy remains unclear, Ruesin said that after his death on March 19, several poultry deaths were also confirmed.

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