Indonesia woman contracts bird flu in new family cluster

An Indonesian woman whose brother died of bird flu this month is also sick with the virus, a senior Health Ministry official said Friday, confirming the country's latest family cluster of infections.

The 21-year-old woman is being treated in a hospital in Surabaya city in east Java province, said Nyoman Kandun. Her 11-year-old brother died from bird flu on Sept. 18. He was suspected of contracting the virus from infected chickens close to his house.

"This is a family cluster," said Kandun, adding that the source of the woman's infection was not yet known.

Most of Indonesia's 52 fatal cases have been linked to contact with infected chickens or their droppings. But the World Health Organization said the virus passed between humans in one large cluster of cases in a single family on Sumatra Island earlier this year.

Cases of suspected human-to-human transmission are watched very closely because they increase the chances of the virus mutating into a form that is easily passed between humans, and that could possibly trigger a global pandemic, reports AP.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 148 people worldwide since it started ravaging poultry stocks in Asia three years ago, according to WHO.

Indonesia has been criticized for failing to aggressively attack the virus in poultry, either by mass slaughters or vaccination. It has said it lacks the resources to compensate farmers for slaughtered birds.