Avian flu deaths reported in Indonesia, China

Jan 27, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – A 22-year-old chicken seller in Indonesia died yesterday after testing positive for avian influenza, and a young Chinese woman whose case was reported previously also succumbed to the disease this week.

The Indonesian man died after a week of hospitalization, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report quoting Ilham Patu of the Sulianti Saroso Hospital in Jakarta.

Local testing showed he had the H5N1 avian flu virus, the story said. If his case is confirmed by tests at a Hong Kong lab accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO), he will be counted as the 15th Indonesian to die of avian flu.

The Chinese victim was a 29-year-old woman from Chengdu City in the south-central province of Sichuan, the WHO reported on Jan 25. She became ill Jan 12 and died Jan 23. Some previous reports had listed her age as 36.

She worked in a dry-goods shop and had no reported exposure to sick birds, the WHO said. Her case was the second one in China so far this year. The first case was also in Sichuan province but was about 150 kilometers from the latest one. No poultry outbreaks had been reported in the areas where the two patients lived, though one occurred elsewhere in the province in December.

China has had 10 human cases of H5N1 avian flu, with 7 deaths, the WHO said. The cases began last November.

In other news, Turkish health officials today said a British lab had confirmed 12 of the 21 human H5N1 cases reported in Turkey, according to an AFP report.

On the basis of in-country tests, Turkey has had 21 human cases, including 4 deaths, all occurring this month. The WHO has mentioned those numbers in reports but has not yet added them to its case count, pending confirmation by outside labs. The agency currently lists a global total of 152 cases with 83 deaths.

The Turkish health ministry said 14 H5N1 patients had recovered and been released from hospitals, while three were still being treated, according to AFP. "It is encouraging that there have been no new cases [since January 17], but precautions should continue," the ministry was quoted as saying.

The apparent mortality rate in Turkey so far is much lower than in East Asia, where it has been more than 50%. A United Nations official said today that scientists are studying whether this means the virus is becoming less deadly in humans, according to a Reuters report.

"The question being asked is, 'Are these people having a milder form of the disease and what does that mean?'" said David Nabarro, the UN's coordinator for avian and pandemic flu. He made the comments at a meeting sponsored by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Nabarro said the lower death rate in Turkey does not mean a reduced risk of a pandemic. "It simply is telling us that the virus may be changing the way it interacts with humans. It does not tell us that the risk of a mutation that causes the pandemic is increasing or decreasing," he told Reuters.

At the same meeting in Davos, business mogul Richard Branson predicted that a flu pandemic could halt up to 70% of commercial air traffic, according to another Reuters report.

"If it happens, an airline is going to have 50 percent of its planes grounded, maybe more—60, 70 percent," he said. Branson is the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and other carriers, the story said.

In other developments, a wild bird called a magpie robin was positive for an H5 virus in preliminary testing in Hong Kong, according to AFP. Another magpie robin in Hong Kong tested positive for an H5N1 virus last week.

See also:

Jan 25 WHO report on fatal human case in China
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2006_01_25a/en/index.html

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