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Suspected Bird Flu Cluster In Indonesia

Despite the risks of Avian Flu, a woman cleans chickens in a Jakarta market. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Kate Walker
Le Bugue, France (UPI) May 17, 2006
World Health Organization officials are monitoring avian-influenza deaths in Indonesia, as a number of recent fatalities indicate that a new infection cluster may be emerging in the country that has thus far played host to the greatest indications of widespread viral evolution.

As many as eight of the same family, six of whom have died, have been infected with avian influenza, although no local poultry appear to have been affected by the disease, sparking concern that the much-feared human-to-human transmission may be the source of infection.

Local tests performed on the family, who come from northern Sumatra, have shown that five members, including four of those who have died, were infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

Indonesian Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono told the media: "So far, an examination of chickens, ducks and pigs around the victims' houses has turned out negative. But we still have to thoroughly investigate it as it's a complicated case."

WHO spokesman Maria Cheng acknowledged that the unusual circumstances surrounding the family's case made it worthy of investigation but played down concerns that this was the beginning of the human influenza pandemic.

"It is something we are taking very seriously ... a cluster raises suspicions that human-to-human transmission may have occurred," she said, explaining that it was equally possible that the family had been infected while taking care of each other, an infrequent occurrence that nonetheless has been seen, particularly in southeast Asia, since avian influenza re-emerged in recent years.

It must also be noted that local tests for avian influenza are not viewed as confirmation of the disease; the WHO-authenticated results for the North Sumatran family are not expected for several days.

Speaking in Jakarta Monday, William Aldis, WHO coordinator of health policy and research in southeast Asia, said, "Any time we see clustered cases, it raises questions, the greatest of which is whether the virus has evolved," but he noted that a number of other observed clusters had not led to human-to-human transmission.

Meanwhile:

-- Following the discovery of avian-influenza outbreaks at poultry farms over the weekend, Romanian authorities Monday announced they plan to cull up to 1 million domestic birds.

The outbreaks were all confirmed in Bravos County, approximately 105 miles north of Bucharest, Saturday. One was in the village of Hurez, another at a chicken farm in Codlea, and the last on the outskirts of Fagaras, a small town.

The news of the outbreaks comes but a month after Romanian authorities announced that attempts to eradicate avian influenza in the Black Sea state had been effective. More than 500,000 birds have been killed in Romania since the Danube region's first outbreak was reported in October 2005.

In response to these latest outbreaks authorities immediately began the widespread culling of local birds. Approximately 2,000 birds have been killed so far, although veterinary authorities concede that this is but the tip of the iceberg if the disease is to be controlled.

"If further tests will detect the virus at other farms in the Codlea region, around 1 million birds might be culled there," Romania's chief veterinarian was quoted as saying in the global media.

-- Two deaths in Indonesia this weekend are suspected to have been the result of avian influenza infection, China's People's Daily reported Monday.

Both deaths were children. Raphael, 8, died Saturday at midnight, while 18-month-old Brenita died Sunday evening, People's Daily cites Dr. Alwinsyah Abidin, Adam Malik Hospital spokesman, as saying.

Both children were admitted to hospital suffering high fevers, and while the exact cause of their deaths has yet to be confirmed, either by local or WHO-certified tests, they were exhibiting symptoms consistent with avian-influenza infection.

If the deaths are confirmed to be as a result of H5N1 infection, they will mark the fifth and sixth bird-flu deaths at Adam Malik hospital, in the Indonesian town of Medan. The hospital is currently treating another patient for suspected avian-influenza infection, although no details of the patient or their condition have been released to the press.

Source: United Press International

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