Bird Flu Spreads in Asia, Jump in Indonesia Cases
JAKARTA -- An Indonesian hospital was on Monday overwhelmed with patients suffering bird flu symptoms while the virus spread further among flocks in Vietnam and flared anew in Thailand.
A recent spurt of human infections with the H5N1 bird flu virus, which re-emerged in Asia in late 2003, has alarmed health officials.
Four Indonesians have died this year after a six-week lull in cases, taking the number of people killed by bird flu in the country to 61, the highest in the world.
At Jakarta's Persahabatan hospital, where doctors were treating 9 people with bird flu symptoms, including a 5-year-old girl in intensive care, its isolation wards were overwhelmed.
"If we get more patients, we will send them to Sulianti Saroso," Muchtar Ichsan, the head of the bird flu ward, told Reuters, referring the country's main bird flu treatment centre in North Jakarta.
The patients included the son and husband of a woman who died of bird flu last week. The 18-year-old son has been confirmed to have the disease, although tests so far on the husband show he does not have the virus.
In a bid to stem the spread of the virus, Indonesia plans to prohibit people from keeping backyard fowl in three high-risk provinces.
Adding to regional worries, a senior Thai agriculture official said on Monday that 1,900 ducks had been culled in the northern province of Phitsanulok after some of the birds had tested positive for H5N1.
The case is Thailand's first in birds since last July. The last human death -- the country's 17th -- occurred in August.
Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily between people, but there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus so far in the latest cases.
The World Health Organisation says bird flu has infected 267 people and killed 161 of them since 2003.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the spike in cases in the northern hemisphere winter follows a similar pattern to that seen over the past three years and was to be expected.
But it was encouraging that outbreaks were being quickly reported and dealt with, a senior WHO official said.
"It is not surprising that we are seeing an increase (in cases) ... but we are seeing much more effective responses than we were a few years ago," Keiji Fukuda, WHO's coordinator for the global influenza programme, told journalists.
In Vietnam, where bird flu has killed 42 of the 93 people infected since 2003, the virus appeared to be spreading fast among fowl in the country's southern Mekong Delta, threatening to engulf the major rice-growing region.
The Animal Health Department said in a report seen on Monday that tests showed H5N1 had killed ducks in the province of Soc Trang, just a day after bird flu was found in the neighbouring province of Tra Vinh.
The Agriculture Ministry has ordered an additional poultry vaccination campaign in the Mekong Delta area and requested reinforcement of animal health teams to contain the spread.
Farm ministry officials in Japan said there was no evidence of the disease spreading there following confirmation at the weekend of a bird flu outbreak at a poultry farm in the southwest in which 3,800 chickens died.
(Additional reporting by Yoga Rusmana in Jakarta, Nguyen Nhat Lam in Hanoi, Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok, Miho Yoshikawa in Tokyo and Richard Waddington in Geneva) (Writing by Karen Iley, editing by Keith Weir; email@example.com; +65 6870 3815)