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Indonesian dies of bird flu, source remains unknown

Wed 30 Jan 2008, 5:24 GMT
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JAKARTA, Jan 30 (Reuters) – A 32-year-old Indonesian man who had tested
positive for bird flu has died, a health ministry official said on Wednesday,
adding authorities are still investigating the source of infection.

The man, from Tangerang west of Jakarta, died on Tuesday at Jakarta’s
Persahabatan hospital, said Toto Haryanto from the ministry’s bird flu

His death takes the country’s toll from the H5N1 bird flu virus to 101.

Initially, authorities suspected the man had contracted the virus from pet
doves kept in his neighbourhood, but subsequent tests revealed the birds and
other fowl in the neighbourhood were H5N1-free.

"It’s a big mystery that has yet to be solved," said Zulkarnain Hassan from
the agricultural ministry’s bird flu control unit tasked with investigating the
source of infection.

"There are three out of four people who died of bird flu this week whose
virus source remains unknown," Hassan told Reuters.

The country’s death toll hit 100 on Monday when two separate laboratory tests
confirmed a 23-year-old woman from East Jakarta and a 9-year-old boy from the
capital’s outskirts had died of bird flu. The source of infection in both cases
is still unknown.

The number of bird flu deaths has spiked recently, with six people dying of
the virus in January.

Emil Agustiono, a top national bird flu committee official, said the recent
surge in cases was caused by a combination of several factors, including poor
sanitation and weather.

"The virus is happy when it’s wet. It thrives during the rainy season …
combine that with poor sanitation and lack of awareness. The people in the slums
are at greater risk," Agustiono told Reuters.

Contact with sick birds is the most common way of contracting the virus,
which is endemic in poultry populations in most of Indonesia.

Fighting bird flu has been difficult in Indonesia as millions of backyard
fowl live in close proximity to humans, while health education campaigns have
often been patchy and rules difficult to enforce.

Although H5N1 remains an animal disease, experts fear the virus could mutate
into a form easily passed from human to human. Millions of people could die
because they would have no immunity against the new strain.

Not including the latest death, bird flu has killed 223 people in a dozen
countries since the virus reappeared in Asia in late 2003, according to World
Heatlh Organisation data. (Reporting by Adhityani Arga; Editing by Sugita

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