The World Health Organisation (WHO) reference laboratory in Hong Kong has confirmed the latest death from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, a 5-year-old boy who died on June 16 in the East Java provincial town of Tulungagung.
The boy, who had shown symptoms of fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing, may have contracted the virus via poultry around his residence.
The latest WHO confirmation has brought the number of human bird flu cases in Indonesia to 54 with 41 of them resulting in death.
Avian influenza has reportedly killed more than130 people around the world since 2003.
Of Indonesia’s 1.2 billion chickens, 30 percent live in the backyards of homes in both rural and urban areas and the virus is endemic in poultry all across Indonesia.
Indonesia’s 220 million inhabitants are spread across 17,000 islands over a 5,000 km radius and monitoring and controlling diseases is complex.
Many Indonesians are poor and raising poultry provides a living and an essential food source and is partly to blame for Indonesia’s reluctance to cull poultry.
The government has repeatedly said that the mass culling of birds is an exercise which is too costly and impractical.
Instead, the vaccination of vulnerable poultry has taken place, but this has been both sporadic and selective and consequently has not been effective in stopping the spread of the virus.
H5N1 avian influenza remains essentially a disease of animals and is relatively difficult to contract. Almost all deaths and infections to date have been the result of close contact with sick or dead birds.
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