Global Health

Bird Flu Deaths Cause Worry in Indonesia

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Indonesian officials have placed the country on high alert for additional human cases of bird flu. So far the dangerous virus is thought to have infected 11 people in Indonesia, and the World Health Organization has confirmed at least two deaths there.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We'll begin this next part of the program with news of allegations of a slow government response to a public health threat. Indonesian officials have placed the country on high alert for additional human cases of bird flu. The government has been accused of responding too slowly. It has fired the country's chief of animal health control for allegedly failing to check the spread of the disease. So far, this dangerous virus is thought to have infected 11 Indonesians. NPR's Richard Knox reports.

RICHARD KNOX reporting:

The World Health Organization has confirmed two deaths from the bird flu virus in Indonesia, but it says two more Indonesians have probably died of bird flu. Another seven people are suspected cases, including two employees of the Jakarta Zoo who had contact with birds. Several suspected cases are children, including a five-year-old girl who died this week.

By declaring a state of emergency, officials can take extraordinary measures to identify possible cases of bird flu and isolate them to prevent spread. That includes forced hospitalization of people with flu symptoms.

Person-to-person transmission of the virus, called H5N1, has been exceedingly rare. That may have occurred in an Indonesian family in July. A 38-year-old man in the suburbs of Jakarta died of confirmed bird flu. His two daughters, who also died, are probable cases. WHO spokesman, Dick Thompson, says the daughters may have caught the H5N1 virus from their father or they all might have gotten it from birds.

Mr. DICK THOMPSON (World Health Organization): We just don't know and I don't think we're ever going to know. But from the public health point of view what's important is that their infection didn't go on to other people. It stopped with them.

KNOX: The big worry is that H5N1 may mutate into a form that can pass readily from person to person. That could touch off a deadly worldwide pandemic. WHO is ready to open its stockpile of the anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, as soon as there's evidence of wider person-to-person spread. However, that stockpile currently contains only enough of the drug to protect about 12,000 people. Richard Knox, NPR News.

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Correction Sept. 29, 2005

This story reported that WHO had enough of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to treat 12,000 people. The correct figure is 120,000.



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