Bird flu claims more victims

Indonesia has confirmed its first human deaths from bird flu - a man and his two daughters - bringing Asia's toll from the disease to 57 people.

    Tens of millions of chickens have either died or been culled

    Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said on Wednesday that lab tests from Hong Kong showed the 38-year-old man and his two children, aged nine and one, had the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

    "It's confirmed. They died of the conventional bird flu virus which does not transmit from humans to humans," the minister said.

    300 under observation

    She added that it was not known when and where

    Iwan Siswara Rafei and his two daughters

    had been infected.

    But she added that the authorities believed the three had

    contracted the disease at about the same time.

    The family's house in Tangerang district, just southwest of

    Jakarta, is far from areas where there had been bird flu outbreaks, she

    said. 

    The virus may mutate to become
    highly infectious, say experts

    The man and his daughters died within days of each other in

    hospital in the first half of July after suffering from severe

    pneumonia.

    About 300 people had been under observation for having contact

    with Rafei, including his wife, another daughter and the family's

    housemaid, and they had shown no signs of sickness, the minister said.

    Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyanto has ordered a cull of

    poultry and pigs within a radius of three km

    from a known bird flu outbreak.

    Pandemic fear

    The ministry has confirmed the infection of bird flu in pigs in

    Banten province, raising concerns that the virus has taken a step

    closer to infecting humans in Indonesia.

    The H5N1 strain of bird flu has so far been mainly transmitted

    between animals, but it has also killed more than 50 people in

    Southeast Asia since 2003.

    Experts fear it could mutate into a highly infectious strain

    that can be easily transmitted from animals to humans or from humans

    to humans, unleashing a pandemic that could kill tens of millions of

    people.

    Bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swathes of Asia since 2003.

    Tens of millions of chickens have either died or been slaughtered.

    The disease has killed 38 people in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand, four in Cambodia, and - with the latest deaths - three in Indonesia. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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