Bird flu moving freely from Asia to Europe and Africa


Thu, Feb 23, 2006 - Page 1

Indonesia said a 27-year-old woman died of bird flu as it prepared to scour the capital for infected poultry, while Malaysia and India expanded the slaughter of chickens to try to contain the H5N1 virus.

Bangladesh and Thailand extended their ban on poultry imports to several more countries, and a UN official in Afghanistan warned that an outbreak in the war-ravaged country was "virtually unavoidable."

International health experts, meanwhile, expressed concern over the unprecedented spread of bird flu from Asia to Europe and Africa.

"We've never seen so many outbreaks of the same virus in so many different regions," said World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Maria Cheng.

"Our concern obviously is that humans could potentially come into contact with birds infected with H5N1, which would mean populations worldwide are potentially at risk," she said.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people since 2003, mostly in Asia, and fresh outbreaks have been reported in birds in 14 countries this month.

International health experts say it remains difficult for humans to catch H5N1, but they fear the virus could mutate, setting off a flu pandemic that could kill millions.


Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said his country, which has recorded 19 deaths in the last nine months, could learn from Vietnam, which has largely stemmed new cases thanks to an aggressive slaughtering campaign.

After meeting with Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Khai in Jakarta, Yudhoyono said the communist country, which has tallied 42 human fatalities, had raised "the whole society's spirit to fight" the deadly bird flu.

Initial tests show that a 27-year-old Indonesia woman died of bird flu in the capital on Monday after coming into contact with sick chickens, said Health Ministry official Hariadi Wibisono, who was awaiting confirmation from a WHO-accredited laboratory in Hong Kong.

Though Indonesia has so far resisted mass culls of poultry, citing a lack of funding, officials said they would start testing and slaughtering birds in infected areas of Jakarta beginning tomorrow.


Malaysia, where seven people were under observation at a hospital with flu-like symptoms yesterday, expanded its bird flu watch area to downtown Kuala Lumpur, including the landmark Petronas Twin Towers.

The country recently reported its first outbreak of the disease in more than a year.

Close to 850 chickens, ducks and other birds were killed following house-to-house checks in hamlets near Malaysia's main city, said Mustapa Abdul Jalil, of the Veterinary Services Department.

"The department believes there is no cause for panic," he told reporters.

India, too, was expanding a massive slaughter of chickens yesterday, as top officials tried to reassure the public it was safe to eat poultry products.

More than half a million birds have been killed in Navapur district since the virus was found in samples from some of the 30,000 chickens that had died recently.