Bird Flu Kills Teenagers in Indonesia, Vietnam

JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 16, 2007 (ENS) - Teenagers in both Indonesia and Vietnam fell victim to H5N1 avian influenza this month. A 17 year old girl from Tangerang District in Banten Province is the Indonesia's latest human bird flu death, the Ministry of Health announced today. The most recent Vietnamese fatality was a teenage student who died during the first week of August.

The Indonesian girl developed symptoms on August 9. She was hospitalized on August 13 and died in hospital the following day. The source of her exposure is currently under investigation.

Of the 104 human cases confirmed to date in Indonesia, 83 have been fatal.

On Monday, Indonesian health authorities confirmed the first human bird flu death on the island of Bali, raising concerns that fear of the disease might have an impact on tourism, the island's economic mainstay.

Chickens for sale at a Bali market. (Photo credit unknown)
A resident of the Jembrana District, the 29 year old woman died on the weekend. Her five year old daughter died on August 3 after suffering flu-like symptoms.

The child's body was cremated before samples were taken for testing, but officials said it could be "assumed" she died due of the virus. Investigations into the source of her infection indicate she had contact with sick and dead poultry.

A two year old girl who lives in the same village as this family is not infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Ministry of Health confirmed today.

The two year old fell ill on Aug 10 with symptoms of fever and a runny nose and samples were taken for testing as a precaution. Testing at two laboratories in Jakarta have confirmed that the girl does not carry the H5N1 virus, health officials said.

Investigators have determined that both children were exposed to H5N1 positive birds in the area.

Supported by the United Nations, authorities are taking action to contain the outbreak on Bali, including the mass culling of birds in the area and educational activities to improve public awareness about bird flu.

In Vietnam, the Agriculture Ministry said on Wednesday they have detected a avian influenza outbreak in the northern province of Cau Ban bordering China. It is the country's second infection of bird flu virus among poultry so far this month.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has infected seven people in Vietnam so far this year, four of whom have died.

Most recently, a 15 year old male student became ill and died of the disease in early August, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported.

Herding ducks in Vietnam's Thanh Hoa province (Photo by Tim Vo)
The victim's family had kept ducks at their home in Thanh Hoa province, south of the capital, Hanoi.

Since the start of the most recent bird flu outbreak in late 2003, 46 people have died in Vietnam out of 100 confirmed human infections, the Health Ministry said.

Once the nation worst hit by bird flu, Vietnam has contained earlier outbreaks through mass vaccination campaigns, the culling of millions of poultry, and public education initiatives.

But the virus resurfaced earlier this year, especially among waterfowl, hitting scores of poultry farms in an outbreak that at its peak in May spread to 18 of the country's 64 provinces and municipalities.

As of this week, only three provinces remained affected, and 160 million head of poultry had received bird flu shots in the year's first round of vaccinations which was ongoing or finished in all provinces, health officials said.

Worldwide, of 320 confirmed human cases of H5N1 bird flu, 194 people have died, according to the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Experts fear the global death toll could soar if the virus were to mutate and become easily transmissible between humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

Earlier this month, World Health Organization spokesman Gregory Hartl said global bird flu cases appeared to have stabilized among humans but that several developing nations had not been able to stop the spread of the disease among poultry and domesticated birds.

"The number of human cases of bird flu appears to be stable when compared to the same period last year," Hartl told Agence France Presse.

"Human to human transmission are very rare. We think there have been three cases - in Viet Nam, Cambodia and Indonesia. And each time the person has had prolonged and direct contact with an affected person," said Hartl.

James Adams, World Bank vice president for East Asia and the Pacific, told reporters in Hanoi on August 7 that the threat of bird flu still exists.

Illegal chicken slaughter house in Jakarta. (Photo by Henri Ismail)
"The magnitude of the challenge in this region is exceptional because this is a region where livestock lives in close proximity to the human population," Adams said.

"We are trying to emphasize from the development side that the needs of the veterinary systems and the health systems do need to be pushed and have to be reinforced."

Until now, sick birds remain the primary source of human infection with the H5N1 virus. There are steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of infection, health officials say.

Do not touch sick or dead chickens, they advise. If you have had contact with sick or dead chickens, promptly wash your hands with soap and report the incident to local authorities. Wash hands and cooking appliances with soap before cooking, and cook chicken and eggs until well done.

Separate poultry from humans. Also separate new poultry from existing poultry flocks for two weeks. Go to a public health center or hospital immediately with flu and fever symptoms that occur after contact with poultry or chicken.

For avian influenza information from the World Health Organization, click here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.