Indonesian Farm Worker Tests Positive for Bird Flu

JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - Indonesia has confirmed its first case of avian influenza in humans, bringing the number of countries with confirmed human cases of the disease to four.

The virulent H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus has killed 38 people in Vietnam since it appeared in December 2003. Twelve Thais and four Cambodians have also died.

A farm worker in South Sulawesi, Indonesia has tested positive for the H5N1 strain, although health officials report he is not feeling ill or showing symptoms. A laboratory in Hong Kong found the infection in his blood, sent in a batch of samples from 79 farm workers in March.

The farm workers were tested after the avian flu epidemic killed at least 25,000 chickens in Sulawesi.

A second confirmatory test took weeks to conduct because the man left his job and had to be traced to his home village before his blood could be retested.

The Indonesian health ministry's chief of epidemiological surveillance Muhammad Nadhirin confirmed that the Sulawesi worker had tested positive for bird flu.

Since 2003, the H5N1 viral strain has infected chickens and other birds in 18 Indonesian provinces on seven islands, and the government is conducting a vaccination effort to protect poultry against the disease.

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Health and agriculture officials confer with chicken farmers who lost their birds to avian influenza in 2004. Bangka Belitung province, Indonesia (Photo by Ian Douglas courtesy FAO)
To date, most human cases of bird flu have happened as a result of human contact with infected birds.

Health authorities are watching closely for human cases of the H5N1 strain of the virus. They fear the virus might develop into a form which can be transmitted from person to person.

That could happen even in an individual who shows no symptoms of the avian influenza. Officials worry that if that person also catches human flu at the same time as a bird flu virus is circulating in his or her blood, there could be a genetic crossover, yielding a new influenza strain that spreads rapidly around the world.

In Vietnam, where most of the human cases have occurred, the Ministry of Health in Vietnam said Friday that since June 1, four cases of human infection with H5N1 avian influenza virus were reported. Two of the patients are from Hanoi and one is from the nearby province of Hai Duong. The fourth patient is from the central province of Nghe An.

All four of the patients are alive. At present, a total of seven patients are being treated for H5N1 avian influenza at a hospital in Hanoi.

A Vietnamese doctor in Hanoi who helped take samples from the avian influenza patients initially tested positive for the disease on Friday, but a second test showed negative results, said Tran Quy, director of Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi.

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Ducks in a Hanoi market, Vietnam, 2004. (Photo by Hans Wagner courtesy FAO)
Eleven avian influenza patients have been hospitalized at the National Institute for Clinical Research of Tropical Medicine in Hanoi, health officials said. The center is also treating 12 suspected avian influenza cases. Their conditions are all "relatively stable."

Although the development of avian influenza in humans has been less serious than at the beginning of the latest outbreak in late 2004, its indications are "untypical and changing," doctors at the hospital warned.

In a government notice this month that seeks to limit the spread of bird flu, China warned scientists against conducting "unsafe" research into avian influenza. Scientists have been ordered to seek approval from the ministry of agriculture before transporting microbe samples abroad.

"No unit or person is allowed to dissect poultry or wild animals that have died from disease, or to collect or transport samples without the approval of animal health authorities at the provincial level or above. No unit or person is allowed to collect samples and microbes and ship them overseas without the agriculture ministry's permission," the notice said.

Millions of chickens and ducks have been killed in China in an effort to combat bird flu, yet outbreaks are still occurring in the country.

Jia Youling, director general of the Veterinary Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture, Beijing, said more than 13,000 geese were destroyed on June 8 in Tacheng City in the Xinjiang autonomous region after about 1,000 birds were found to be infected with the H5N1 viral strain. The disease was spread by migratory birds, the ministry said.

Xinjiang autonomous region borders the province of Qinghai, where an extensive outbreak in wild geese and other wild birds was reported by the Chinese authorities in May.