WHO confirms a lot of bird flu deaths in Indonesia

Five members of the same family died in Indonesia of bird flu, the World Health Organization and local tests confirmed Wednesday, one of the largest recorded clusters of H5N1 fatalities.

One other relative was infected with the virus but survived, heightening concerns that the disease may be passing from humans to humans, a scenario health experts fear could trigger a global human pandemic.

But international and local health officials said Wednesday, while further investigation was needed, that appeared unlikely.

"We believe they may have been infected through (chicken manure) fertilizer brought from towns ... in North Sumatra province that were known to have been infected with bird flu," said Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.

The WHO also confirmed a separate death elsewhere in the sprawling archipelago, raising its human death toll to 30 on Wednesday, the second-highest number after Vietnam, which has 42.

The government has come under fire in recent months for its handling of bird flu, which has raced through poultry stocks in two-thirds of its 33 provinces and killed 19 people in 2006 alone, more than any other county.

It has so far refused to carry out mass culls of chickens in infected areas, one of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's most basic containment guidelines.

There is also a lack of public awareness about the disease in the countryside, home to millions of backyard chickens, with many villagers saying they have never even heard of the virus, reports the AP.


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