Indonesia records 24th bird-flu death

An eight-year-old Indonesian girl who died last year has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the nation’s 24th bird-flu fatality, a health ministry official said on Tuesday.

Runizar Rusin, the head of the ministry’s bird-flu command post, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that samples taken from the girl were only recently sent to Hong Kong for testing by a WHO-affiliated laboratory.

“Following testing at the WHO laboratory in Hong Kong, the results were sent back to us yesterday [Monday] and were positive,” he said, adding that the results meant Indonesia now had 24 confirmed deaths.

A WHO representative in Jakarta told AFP that no fresh samples had been accepted by the laboratory in Hong Kong recently and she had not received any official report on the increased toll.

“However, we are now following up the veracity of the report,” she said.

Hariyadi Wibisono, director general of the animal-borne disease control at the health ministry, said he was unable to provide a more detailed explanation until he, too, had received an official report.

Indonesia has witnessed more bird-flu deaths than any other country this year and has the second highest number of fatalities reported in the world since 2003, after Vietnam.

The WHO representative said that only the girl’s 38-year-old father had been confirmed last year as having died of H5N1.

Indonesia’s health minister said at the time she believed that the father, the eight-year-old and her one-year-old sister who also died had all been infected. The trio were from the outskirts of Jakarta, where most of Indonesia’s fatalities have come from, and they died within days of each other in hospital in the first half of July 2005.

Many Indonesians live in close proximity to poultry even in towns and cities, though infected birds have been found in at least 26 of Indonesia’s 33 provinces.

Meanwhile Ilham Patu, spokesperson for Sulianti Saroso hospital, Indonesia’s main facility for treating bird-flu patients, said five suspected patients were now being treated there.

He noted, however, that fewer suspected patients were being admitted to the hospital in the past month and attributed this to better awareness of the virus and how it spread.

“I assume they realise that keeping chickens and pigeons in their homes, especially if their coops are not being properly cleaned, could harm their health,” the spokesperson added.

WHO confirmed Indonesia’s previous bird-flu fatality—a one-year-old girl—last Friday. Local tests have also shown that a 23-year-old man in West Sumatra, who is still alive, had also tested positive.

Local tests for the virus, which are usually accurate, are routinely sent to WHO-affiliated laboratories in Hong Kong or the United States for confirmation.—AFP

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