Bird flu virus killing more than 80 percent of its victims in Indonesia

Bird flu is killing more than 80 percent of its victims in hardest-hit Indonesia, a senior official said, partly because people refuse to believe the virus poses a serious threat.

"Often it's purely a case of ignorance," said Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of the country's bird flu commission, adding that it also can take up to five days for patients in rural areas to be diagnosed and sent to a bird flu-reference hospital.

This is often too late to save them, he said.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 189 people and sickened 121 more worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Indonesia accounts for 79 of those deaths and 20 illnesses.

Krisnamurthi said in comments seen Friday that a public awareness campaign had been successful, reaching the bulk of the country's 240 million people, but less than 15 percent believe they or their families are at risk.

That has resulted in a greater fatality rate, he said, noting that when bird flu first jumped from chickens to people in Indonesia two years ago, 75 percent of those who fell ill died, compared to 86 percent today.

Bird flu remains relatively difficult for humans to catch, experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

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