Avian flu task force formed, disease returns to Indonesia

Oct 9, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Southeast Asian nations have agreed to band together to coordinate response to the deadly avian influenza outbreak that has caused 31 human deaths and widespread poultry losses.

Agriculture ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded a 2-day meeting with a statement Friday that said the H5N1 avian flu is threatening "global public health, poultry production, trade and economic development," according to a Reuters news service story. They plan to create a task force focused on the disease.

ASEAN's member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Two of those countries have made independent announcements about bird flu this week.

Avian influenza has returned to Indonesia, where hundreds of chickens were killed last week, according to Thursday's Jakarta Post. But an Indonesian official announced that the flu strain responsible for poultry deaths there couldn't be spread to humans, according to news reports.

Agriculture Minister Tri Satya Putri Naipospos, director of animal health, said on Wednesday that tests conducted in Hong Kong found that the H5N1 flu strain in Indonesia differed from the flu that has killed people in Thailand and Vietnam this year. It was of a genotype that does not infect humans, Naipospos was reported as saying.

The World Health Organization (WHO) countered the claim.

"We know of no studies that would support that kind of contention," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told Reuters. "A closer reading of the study would indicate that H5N1 can infect humans no matter which strain we are talking about."

A WHO expert told Agence France-Presse the situation was a case of misinterpretation. That news agency quoted the WHO's Steven Bjorge as saying that Indonesia's virus differs somewhat from the virus in Vietnam and Thailand, but it is still part of the same Z genotype that has caused deaths in the latter countries.

Also on Wednesday, Vietnam announced it had contained its latest avian flu outbreak, according Agence France-Presse.

"Basically, Vietnam has successfully controlled bird flu. Over the past 20 days, no new cases of bird flu have been reported in Vietnam," Bui Quang Anh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Agence France-Presse.

Anh also told the agency that the Vietnamese government was not covering up avian influenza despite its refusal to release test results conducted on a 14-month-old boy who died Sep 5. Avian influenza was suspected in his death, the story said. 

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