A 35-year-old woman was declared Indonesia's 46th bird flu death, health authorities said yesterday as they stepped up an urgent probe into whether she may belong to a feared cluster of cases.
Indonesia has reported the world's highest number of fatalities from bird flu, which has now killed some 141 people globally according to the WHO.
The woman came from Cikelet, a group of villages in West Java's Garut district where two other people -- one of whom remains alive -- have been confirmed as being infected with H5N1. At least 16 others are being tested.
"Tests by the health ministry's research and development laboratory and by NAMRU [the US Naval Medical Research Unit] both showed that `EL' was positively infected with bird flu," said health ministry official I Nyoman Kandun.
Positive results from these two laboratories mean that the WHO considers the death to be caused by bird flu.
Kandun was referring to Euis Lina, who died last Thursday after a few hours of treatment.
Three other people from Cikelet have also died recently while exhibiting possible bird flu symptoms but were not tested for the virus, heightening concern that limited human-to-human transmission may have occurred in the area.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari told ElShinta radio yesterday that one of the three people who died of possible bird flu was the child of the latest victim, Lina.
The minister said samples from a further 16 people in the area had been taken for testing. Of three suspected bird flu cases earlier hospitalized in Bandung, two have been cleared of the virus but test results for the third were not yet available, she said.
Garut general hospital said two more people -- a four-year old boy and a 50-year old woman -- from Cikelet were admitted to the hospital on Saturday on suspicion of having the virus.
Experts from the health ministry and the WHO were dispatched to Cikelet last Thursday to investigate the escalating number of cases in the area. Supari also said that more than 100 chickens had died in Cikelet recently.