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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

New bird flu cases in Indonesia, China trigger new fears
By John Soltes
Jun 16, 2006, 14:14

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June 16 ( - More cases of bird flu in humans have been suspected or confirmed this month in both Indonesia and China, raising fears that the H5N1 virus may have mutated into a form that is more dangerous than previously thought.

In Indonesia, a 14-year-old boy died from complications after contracting the deadly bird flu virus, according to representatives from the World Health Organization yesterday June 15. Tests are still being conducted to confirm the case, but all signs point towards bird flu.

"The boy was admitted to the hospital on June 14 after suffering from flu-like symptoms and he died on the same day," Director General Nyoman Kandun said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

This most recent case would be the 39th person to die from bird flu in Indonesia, one of the Asian countries hit hardest by the outbreak. Indonesia sits in the second spot, behind Vietnam, for most deaths attributed to bird flu.

The boy sought medical treatment on June 14 in a Jakarta hospital, and died later the same day, according to Today Online. People who were in direct contact with the infected boy are being closely monitored at a Hong Kong hospital.

In addition to the Indonesian death, Chinese health officials confirmed yesterday a 31-year-old male truck driver living in Shenzhen, which is in the Guangdong province of China, contracted bird flu as well.

The man contracted the H5N1 strain of the virus, which is the most common strain present in the worldwide outbreaks. The man had visited a live-bird market a few days before being diagnosed with the virus.

The man is currently being treated for flu-like symptoms (including fever). The 31-year-old man is China's 19th human case of bird flu (of which 12 people have died).

Chinese health officials are concerned about this particular man's case because he does not have a long history of working with poultry. Besides attending a live-bird market, the man had no other access to poultry infected with bird flu. This could mean the virus is becoming stronger and spreading quicker.

Other concerns are that the Chinese man and Indonesian boy became infected presumably with bird flu during the summer, when the virus is usually dormant.

"We have a suspicion, but we have not confirmed it yet, that the virus might have become more virulent and more widespread than we have expected. If that is the case, the risk for humans to be infected in future is higher," Hong Kong Health Secretary York Chow said, according to Forbes.

The World Bank and World Animal Health Organization have decried Indonesia's lax efforts to curb the bird flu outbreaks. According to the organizations, Indonesia is underreporting many infected poultry cases. In addition, the country's efforts have been "disorganized" and "underfinanced," according to the World Bank.

Indonesia, a country with an estimated 1.3 billion chickens, is having difficulty spreading health messages from leaders to the population. The Jakarta Post quoted Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari as saying the government was, "running out of ideas for how to make the public aware (of bird flu)."

Because many nurses working on the bird flu victims have become sick themselves, many believe the virus has already mutated. WHO officials are trying to debunk rumors that the Indonesian cases are evidence that the bird flu virus can be spread from human to human.

A WHO spokesperson said Indonesia is adequately taking care of its human cases of bird flu. The problem is their inferiority in controlling the animal outbreak.

Before the most recent case of the 14-year-old boy dying from bird flu, Indonesia saw the death of a brother and sister on May 29 and June 1 respectively from the virus. The 7-year-old sister was diagnosed as having contracted bird flu, but her brother was not. He was buried before specimens could be adequately taken.

Worldwide bird flu has taken the lives of nearly 130 infected people. Health experts fear the virus is on the verge of mutating into a form that can be spread from human to human.

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