Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bird flu cluster baffles experts

By Diyan Jari 2 hours, 4 minutes ago

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Limited human-to-human transmission of bird flu might have occurred in an Indonesian family and health experts are tracing anyone who might have had contact with them and putting them on antiviral drugs as a precaution, the World Health Organization said.

But a senior WHO official said in Jakarta this was not the first time the world was seeing a family cluster and stressed that fresh scientific evidence has shown the virus in Indonesia has not mutated to one that can spread easily among people.

Bird flu has killed 124 people in 10 countries since it re-emerged in Asia in 2003. It remains essentially a disease in birds and has spread to dozens of countries in wild birds and poultry.

In China, where the virus has been entrenched for the last 10 years, fresh trouble may be brewing as authorities confirmed an outbreak of the H5N1 among wild birds in its remote far-western Qinghai province and Tibet.

About 400 wild birds had been found dead "recently," its state Xinhua news agency said, quoting the Agriculture Ministry.

An outbreak of the H5N1 killed thousands of birds in Qinghai Lake this time last year and this strain of the virus has since turned up in parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Markets are also nervous about a suspected cluster in Iran.

An Iranian medical official told Reuters on Monday that a 41-year-old man and his 26-year-old sister from the northwestern city of Kermanshah had tested positive for bird flu.

But Health Minister Kamran Lankarani denied this although international health officials are still investigating.

The two siblings were among five members of a family who became sick and the other three remain in the hospital.

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