WHO confirms two more human bird flu deaths

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Two young boys died of bird flu in Indonesia – one from a family that has already lost four members to the disease, the World Health Organization said Friday.

In Rome, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the state of emergency surrounding the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus in poultry and other animals will last for years.

“The knock-in effect on the poultry sector is enormous, and it could deal a significant blow to local, regional and national economies,” the agriculture organization said in a statement quoting its chief veterinary officer, Joseph Domenech.

Bird flu has killed 123 people worldwide, nearly a quarter of them in Indonesia, which saw its official toll jump to 32 with Friday’s announcement.

Health Ministry spokesman Sumardi, who goes by only one name, said the latest victims died in the last week.

One was a 10-year-old boy from Sumatra – one of five extended family members to have died of the H5N1 virus in recent weeks – and the other a 12-year-old from the eastern outskirts of Jakarta, he said.

The multiple deaths of relatives living in the village of Kubu Sembelang on Sumatra, previously believed to be free of the disease, raised concerns that the virus may have mutated to a form that is easily transmissible between people. Health experts say such a scenario could lead to a pandemic, killing millions of people worldwide.

But it appeared unlikely Friday that the virus, which is usually passed to humans through contact with infected birds, had mutated, said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.

Tests indicate they got the virus from poultry, she told reporters, adding that the government was awaiting confirmation of its findings from a WHO-approved laboratory.

Indonesia has come under fire in recent months for doing too little to stop the spread of bird flu, which has been found in poultry in two-thirds of the country’s 33 provinces.

AP-ES-05-19-06 2132EDT


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