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Indonesia Defends H5N1 Fight

File photo: An Indonesia man, infected with the HN51 virus, lies in a hospital in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Kate Walker
UPI Correspondent
London (UPI) Oct 18, 2006
In a week that has seen three deaths from avian influenza in three days, all in Indonesia, the country defended its efforts in the battle against bird flu. "We are doing the best we can," said Nyoman Kandun, a senior Health Ministry official.

While it has been established that the best way to eradicate avian influenza in poultry is by mass action, be it culling or vaccination, the Indonesian government says that it is unable to offer sufficient compensation to the country's millions of backyard poultry farmers. The sheer number of domestic flocks in the country makes any vaccination program costly and unwieldy.

Last month the Indonesian government launched a bird-flu information campaign, teaching people how to avoid contracting the disease through proper hygiene and due care. But the recent spate of deaths -- Indonesia has suffered the highest avian-influenza toll of any country -- seems to indicate that such programs are not working.

On Friday a 27-year-old woman from Central Java died a day after being hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. Her death was confirmed Wednesday by the World Health Organization as being directly attributable to avian influenza -- Indonesia's 55th such death.

Then Saturday an unidentified 11-year-old boy died in Jakarta's Sulianto Saroso Hospital for Infectious Diseases.

On Sunday a 72-year-old grandmother died of avian influenza in a highly unusual case that also saw her affected by encephalitis. The woman, from Cisarua in West Java, was placed in a bird-flu isolation ward Oct. 7 and lost consciousness for a day due to encephalitis. Her kidneys were also affected.

No other Indonesian bird-flu victim has been affected by encephalitis; the only other reported case occurred in Vietnam in 2004. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain that is associated with viral diseases, bacterial diseases such as bacterial meningitis, or complications arising from diseases including syphilis and rabies. Avian influenza, on the other hand, traditionally attacks the lungs.

"The virus in her was highly pathogenic, very vicious. She is the 54th casualty out of 71 cases," said Runizar Ruesin, the Health Ministry's bird-flu information center chief.

In other Flu News:

The Swiss government Wednesday announced it would stockpile enough avian-influenza vaccine to protect the whole country in the event of a pandemic.

Health officials have confirmed the purchase of 8 million vials of a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline at a cost of around $142 million.

Actual supplies of the vaccine are not expected to be delivered until January 2007, and the cost of the procedure is still awaiting parliamentary approval, which it is expected will be granted shortly.

"If needed, it will therefore be possible to offer a first immunization to the whole of the (7.4 million) population," the government said in a statement.

"This vaccination will be voluntary and will only be administered once its effect against a pandemic virus has been proven."

Egyptian Health Minister Hatem Al Gabali this week warned that Egyptians may see a rise in the number of reported avian-influenza infections and outbreaks in the coming weeks, and added that he feared a human case would be reported soon.

"Bird flu is still present and we will witness new cases this winter. We just hope they won't be fatal," the minister told Parliament. "The population still refrains from informing the authorities when poultry is infected, especially in domestic rearings."

Last week a 39-year-old woman from Gharbiya province, in the northern Delta, was confirmed to be suffering with avian influenza. Her condition has since been described as stable.

Fifteen Egyptians have become infected with bird flu since the first human case earlier this year. Of those, six cases proved fatal.

Source: United Press International

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