Avian Flu Death Count Rises in Indonesia

Three H5N1 deaths in Indonesia bring the country’s avian influenza death count to 149. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported today the death of a 1-year-old girl form Jakarta Province. The Jakarta Post also reports the deaths of two siblings, ages five and ten, from Bali. Indonesia has had more case and death counts than any other country affected by avian influenza. Following Indonesia is Vietnam with 59 reported deaths and Egypt with 52 reported deaths. 

Prior to this week, no avian influenza deaths had been recorded in Bali since 2007.

Avian Influenza is an infectious viral disease that routinely affects birds. However, in 1997, the first H5N1 (a strain of avian influenza) human infection was documented in China. The influenza virus can cause diseases with different pathogenicities, or degrees of severity. This means that some strains of avian influenza have low pathogenicity, such as the strain commonly found in wild birds in North America, and others have a much higher pathogenicity, such as the H5N1 strain circulating in parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. For more information on H5N1 in Asia, please see our previous report on potential mutant forms of the virus.

Transmission of the virus is from bird to bird, through contact with saliva, mucosal secretions or feces. Transmission can also occur from bird to human. There is no evidence that it can be spread through properly cooked food products. 

After infection, symptoms may not show for two to 17 days. Symptoms of H5N1 infection include high fever, diarrhea, vomiting and chest pain. Treatment is limited to the use of certain antiviral drugs that limit the replication of the virus within the body. 

Recent cases of H5N1 cause health officials concern because the virus has what the WHO calls, “pandemic potential.” In other words, because there is little to no immunity to the virus in humans and it circulates widely in poultry populations, the virus could have devastating consequences. Fortunately, to date, there is limited and unsustainable transmission of the virus from human to human. However, the influenza virus can mutate, as the FAO warned, late this summer.  

WHO cautions that controlling the spread of the virus in birds is necessary to controlling the virus in humans, as contact with poultry seems to be the primary risk factor for human infection.

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