Number of human bird flu cases in Indonesia likely higher than reported

The number of human bird flu cases in Indonesia is likely to be far higher than reported because of poor surveillance outside the capital, the health minister said Tuesday. Siti Fadilah Supari said the government planned a nationwide campaign to "search for cases at the village level" to measure the extent of the virus in the sprawling country of more than 13,000 islands.

All but two of Indonesia's 11 confirmed cases of bird flu, seven of which have been fatal, have occurred in the greater Jakarta area. "Jakarta is better at detecting cases," Supari said when asked about the concentration in the capital. "I'm afraid that there also many cases in other areas that are going undetected."

Outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu have devastated poultry flocks across Asia since 2003 and jumped to humans, killing at least 67.

Most people who have died or been sickened by bird flu had contact with sick birds. But international health experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmissible between people and spark a global pandemic.

The World Health Organization, which is helping Indonesia fight the virus, agreed it was likely that Jakarta's surveillance system was better than other, less-developed areas of the country. But spokeswoman Sari Setiogi said that reports are coming in from other provinces, showing that the surveillance system outside Jakarta is operational, reports the AP. I.L.

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