WHO confirms avian flu case in Indonesia

Sep 22, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) today confirmed a new human case of H5N1 avian influenza in Indonesia, but said there is no evidence that the virus is easily spreading from person to person there.

The agency said the Indonesian government confirmed a case in an 8-year-old boy who is being treated in a hospital. A WHO reference laboratory in Hong Kong did the confirmatory testing.

But despite a growing number of patients being treated for suspicious respiratory illnesses in a Jakarta hospital, the agency said, "Current investigations in Indonesia have produced no evidence that the H5N1 virus is spreading easily from person to person." Consequently the WHO has not raised its level of pandemic alert, though it promised to keep watching the situation closely.

The newly confirmed case means the WHO now recognizes three cases in Indonesia, including a 38-year-old man who died in July and a 37-year-old woman who died Sep 10. The government counts the 38-year-old man's two young daughters, who also died in July, as cases, but the WHO has said their test results did not meet the criteria for H5N1.

The new case increases the WHO's avian flu tally since late 2003 to 115 cases with 59 deaths, of which 91 cases and 41 deaths occurred in Vietnam.

The WHO statement did not say where the 8-year-old boy lives or how he might have been exposed to avian flu. The previous cases have all been in the Jakarta area.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that 13 people were being treated for possible symptoms of avian flu today at Jakarta's Sulianti Saroso Hospital, four more than yesterday. A doctor there said the three newest patients had visited Jakarta's Ragunan Zoo Sep 18, just before officials closed it because 19 birds there had tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

Today's WHO statement suggested that the rash of suspected cases of avian flu in Indonesia mainly reflects increased vigilance. Because of growing public and governmental concern, "several patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of possible exposure to the avian virus are being evaluated as part of ongoing surveillance efforts," the agency said.

The WHO also said today that tests on samples from the 37-year-old Indonesian woman who died of avian flu earlier this month showed that the virus had not mutated, according to news services.

Georg Petersen, the WHO representative in Jakarta, said the virus that killed the woman appeared to be the same as viruses circulating in poultry in Indonesia, according to a report yesterday in the New York Times. The finding, which he called reassuring, was based on a genetic analysis of the virus by Malik Peiris at Hong Kong University.

According to the story, Peiris said his analysis, not yet complete, suggests that the virus had not exchanged genes with human flu viruses, an event that could enable it to spread more readily from person to person.

See also:

Sep 22 WHO statement
http://www.who.int/csr/don/archive/disease/influenza/2005_09_22a/en/index.html

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