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Bird Flu

Indonesia: On the brink of "human flu pandemic?”

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Yusof Sulaiman  Mar 20, 2008

(eTN) - Describing the current bird flu situation in Indonesia as "critical,” the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) has warned the continuing outbreak could lead the virus to mutate and cause a "human influenza pandemic.”

"Indonesia is facing an uphill battle against a virus that is difficult to contain," FAO chief veterinarian Joseph Domenech said, in a statement on Tuesday in Rome. "We have also observed that new H5N1 avian influenza virus strains have recently emerged."

According to him, "The human mortality rate from bird flu in Indonesia is the highest in the world. I am concerned it could create conditions for the virus to mutate and to finally cause a human influenza pandemic."

This year alone there have been 11 human deaths reported in Indonesia, bringing the total to 105 fatalities since the H5N1 virus strain was first detected. The number is half of the total worldwide fatalities.

Despite efforts internationally and nationally, said Domenech, the high level of virus in circulation among birds in the country could create conditions for the virus to mutate.

There are 193 surveillance and response teams in 448 districts in Indonesia, yet birds in 31 out of 33 provinces are affected, according to Domenech. By June 2008, there will be more than 2,000 teams active in Indonesia, covering more than 300 districts where the disease is endemic.

But it may still not be enough. Since the first outbreak of bird flu virus was reported in Indonesia it has spread further east, infecting birds in Papua and Sulawesi, spreading rapidly across Java, into Bali, Kalimantan and Sumatra Island with "sporadic outbreaks" also reported in other areas.

Added Domenech, "Major human and financial resources, stronger political commitment and strengthened coordination between the central, provincial and district authorities are required."

Meanwhile, medical research scientists Guan Yi from the University of Hong Kong and Robert Webster from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, USA reported in their findings, Southern China may have been the source of the H5N1 avian flu virus.

Tracing the virus's path, it was first seen in a goose in southern China's Guangdong province in 1996, followed by an outbreak in Hong Kong which killed six people.

A genetic analysis of the virus from infected birds in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia from 2003 to 2004 shows the strain "closely resemble” a strain from birds in poultry markets in Yunan province.

Two viruses found in poultry in China's Hunan province in 2002-2003 were most closely related to viruses from Indonesia. "These results suggest a direct transmission link for H5N1 viruses between Yunnan and Vietnam, and Hunan and Indonesia during 2002-2003,"
according to the researchers.

Since the H5N1 was first detected in Southeast Asia in late 2003, there has been a total of 236 fatalities in 14 countries around the world, spreading from Asia to Central Asia and Africa. The virus has since then been detected in more than 60 countries and territories.

Indonesia: On the brink of "human flu pandemic?”

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