U.S. health official reviews Indonesia to identify and contain bird flu

The top U.S. health official was reviewing Indonesia's ability to identify and contain bird flu outbreaks Monday, warning it will be almost impossible to halt a pandemic if the virus mutates into a more dangerous form. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt's first stop was a U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit laboratory that is used for initial analysis of samples drawn from suspected bird flu patients.

Later he was scheduled to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari and Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Max Kwak.

Leavitt's two-day visit to Indonesia follows stops in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Before leaving Hanoi, Leavitt told reporters his Southeast Asia tour had painted a clearer picture of just how daunting it would be to identify and contain an outbreak if the virus mutates to a form easily spread among people.

It could skip across borders and oceans, killing millions and crippling entire nations.

"Can we create a network of surveillance sufficient enough to find the spark when it happens, to get there fast enough?" said Leavitt who arrived in the Indonesian capital on Sunday. "The chances of that happening are not good."

More than 60 people have died from the virus in Southeast Asia, three in Indonesia, since the disease began ravaging poultry stocks in the region two years ago. So far, most humans deaths have been linked to contact with birds, reports the AP. I.L.

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