Bird Flu Again Spreads Across Asia

JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 16, 2007 (ENS) - Infections of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus in birds and people are increasing in Asia, where the virus was first identified 10 years ago. Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailnd, Hong Kong, South Korea have reported diseased birds in the past month, while new human cases have emerged in Indonesia and China.

The Indonesian Ministry of Health has confirmed the deaths of four people last week. A 22 year old woman from South Jakarta developed symptoms on January 6 and died on January 12, the agency said. Investigations into the source of her exposure found reports of bird deaths near her home in the days prior to symptom onset.

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The current outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which began in southeast Asia in mid-2003, are the largest and most severe on record. (Photo courtesy FAO)
The ministry also has confirmed the death of a 22 year old woman from Tangerang City, Banten Province. The woman, whose infection was announced on January 12, died later that day.

Also in Tangerang City, a man whose wife and teenage son were infected with the H5N1 virus tested negative for the virus, relieving concern that the cases may indicate an increase in the virus's ability to spread among people.

If the man had tested positive, health officials would have had evidence that the virus is capable of infecting people without genetic susceptibility to infection.

In the past, doctors have explained clusters of H5N1 transmission among blood relatives with the idea of genetic susceptibility.

The man, whose wife died last week of the virus and whose son is now in critical condiction, will soon be released from hospital, Dr. Nyoman Kandun, Indonesia's director general of disease control and environmental health said Sunday. "The husband is negative," Kandun said in Jakarta. "Only the son is positive.

Initial investigations suggest sick poultry as the possible source of infection for this family.

There is little pre-existing natural immunity to H5N1 infection in humans. If these H5N1 viruses gain the ability for efficient and sustained transmission among humans, health officials warn that an influenza pandemic could result, with potentially high rates of illness and death.

On Monday, the Indonesian government banned commercial animal husbandry in residence areas, Jakarta's Elshinta radio station reported. The decision was made to limit the spreading of bird flu virus, the station reported.

Of the 79 human bird flu cases confirmed to date in Indonesia, 61 have been fatal.

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Poultry for sale at an outdoor market in Indonesia (Photo by Gary Hampton courtesy WHO)
The Ministry of Health in China Wednesday confirmed a case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

A 37 year old man from Tunxi in Anhui Province became ill on December 10, 2006 and was hospitalized the following week. He was discharged on January 6 and is recovering well, health officials told the World Health Organization, WHO.

Information provided to WHO indicates that he was a farmer and may have kept a number of birds in his back yard. An investigation is underway. Close contacts were placed under medical observation but are all well and were released on December 29, 2006.

Of the 22 human cases of H5N1 infection confirmed to date in China, 14 have been fatal.

In a fresh wave of poultry outbreaks last week, the H5N1 bird flu virus resurfaced in Thailand for the first time in six months. About 100 infected ducks died in the northern Phitsanulok province, an Agriculture Ministry official said on Monday.

The new infections parallel a resurgence of outbreaks in the first three months of 2006, when the virus spread to more than 30 countries.

In Vietnam, the Animal Health Department said in a report on Sunday the H5N1 bird flu virus had been found in ducks in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh, expanding the spread of the disease in southern provinces.

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Animal health inspectors examine chickens for signs of avian influenza. (Photo courtesy WHO)
Tra Vinh borders Vinh Long province, where bird flu invaded a chicken farm last week.

After four infection-free months, Vietnamese animal health officials have confirmed outbreaks of the virus in ducks and chickens in four other Mekong delta provinces. In an attempt to curb the spreading virus, market inspectors have restricted the movement and sale of poultry.

Vietnam has had no human H5N1 cases since November 2005.

In southwestern Japan, the Miyazaki prefectural government on Sunday began disposing of 12,000 chickens at a poultry farm, after the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry confirmed that they died from H5N1 bird flu.

Under a law that requires prevention of the infectious disease in livestock, the local government mobilized about 150 workers to dispose of all the chickens at the farm in the town of Kiyotake, including about 3,800 birds that were already dead.

The prefectural government plans on-site inspections of 16 other chicken farms located within 10 kilometers (six miles) of the infected farm.

No human cases of H5N1 bird flu have emerged in Japan.

As of Monday, of 267 human cases worldwide, 161 have been fatal.

In Hong Kong wild birds have been found dead this month of either suspected or confirmed avian influenza.

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Crested goshawk (Photo courtesy Birding in Taiwan)
Saturday, officials said a crested goshawk is suspected of having died from the H5 virus.

The Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, AFCD, says preliminary testing of the dead bird found in Shek Kip Mei indicates bird flu was the cause of death of the forest-dwelling bird of prey. Confirmatory tests are still being conducted.

Also in Hong Kong, a resident seed eating bird known as the scaly-breasted munia tested positive for H5N1 virus on January 6.

AFCD officials said a scaly-breasted munia found dead in Causeway Bay was confirmed to be H5N1 positive after a series of laboratory tests. The carcass was collected by AFCD staff in Leighton Road following a public referral.