Indonesia records new bird flu death

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 culls of chickens to try to contain the H5N1 virus.

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," WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said.

"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."

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 since early February, according to the World Health Organization.

Seeking to keep the virus from spreading to Bangladesh, authorities there increased the number of countries affected by a poultry product import ban to 26 on Wednesday, adding Germany, France, Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Iran to their list.

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

One of the countries they are closely watching is Indonesia, which has so far tallied 19 human deaths, all in the last nine months.

The high density of poultry and people make the sprawling archipelago especially vulnerable, Cheng said.

"The more chances H5N1 has to infect people, the more chances it has to evolve into a form that could spark a pandemic," she said. "And the place we're seeing the most human infections right now is Indonesia."

A 27-year-old woman died Monday in the capital Jakarta after coming into contact with sick chickens, said senior health ministry official Hariadi Wibisono.

Local tests came back positive for bird flu, and swab and blood samples for the woman have been sent to a WHO-accredited laboratory in Hong Kong for confirmation, he said.

Indonesia said it would kick off a campaign Friday to test thousands of chickens for the virus, and Malaysia expanded its bird flu watch area to downtown Kuala Lumpur, including the landmark Petronas Twin Towers, reports the AP.

I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team