Saturday, January 13, 2007

Officials say no mutation in latest avian influenza outbreak

Saturday, January 13, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Authorities are dismissing speculation that bird flu has mutated in its latest outbreak, which killed a 14-year-old boy Wednesday and a 37-year-old woman the next day.

Accompanied by a panel of experts, the head of the National Commission for Avian Influenza and Pandemic Preparedness, Bayu Krisnamurthi, also denied a more virulent virus caused the outbreak.

He said the pattern of transmission remained the same, from chicken to human. He added that further study must to be done to discover whether ducks could also pass the virus to humans.

"There is a variety of hosts, but so far there is no scientific evidence that other animals can spread the virus to human beings besides chickens. The virus found in other animals is still the avian virus and has not yet transformed into a new variant," he said before the panel of experts in Jakarta.

In Bandung, West Java, four suspected bird flu patients -- a 33-year-old woman and her two children from Cicalengka in Bandung regency, and a poultry farm owner from Purwakarta -- remained in Hasan Sadikin hospital Friday.

The woman's husband, Endang, said his wife and two children, a 14-year-old boy and an eight-month-old baby girl, started suffering from high fever and coughing over the past 10 days.

"Around Idul Adha (Dec. 31), some 30 chickens around our house suddenly died. One of them even died in our front yard," he said in the hospital's Flamboyan room.

The three were referred to the Bandung hospital Thursday by a local community health center since they had a history of contact with dead chickens. Rapid test results from the dead chickens around their house showed two were H5N1 positive.

Another suspected bird flu victim, a 55-year-old poultry farm owner identified as J, had shown symptoms for three days before being taken to the hospital Thursday.

West Java animal husbandry office head of poultry health subdivision warned Friday that the H5N1 virus has continued to spread, and told people to maintain cleanliness, especially during the monsoon season.

The head of Hasan Sadikin hospital's bird flu prevention team, Hadi Jusuf, has also told people to be more aggressive in identifying bird flu symptoms, including high fever, coughing, and breathing problems after having direct contact with dead chickens.

Despite the return of the virus, the panel believed Indonesia was on the right track toward eradicating the H5N1 virus.

"By saying that there is an improvement in our efforts, we don't mean the virus is not around anymore. We have to remain alert to the danger because the nature of the virus is random. The war is far from over," said Bayu.

Bayu said bird flu control efforts in 2007 will focus on an expanded public awareness and social mobilization program, strengthened animal and human disease surveillance and control programs, and a restructuring of the poultry industry.

"Restructuring the poultry industry is not an easy choice; we need a comprehensive policy in order to reduce the cost. We need to be more careful because it will reduce jobs and disrupt the protein supply from chickens," said Krisnamurthi.(02)

--Yuli Tri Suwarni contributed to this story from Bandung, West Java.

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