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Bird flu cluster alarm

24th May 2006

24052006_birdcages1.jpgThe World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is extremely worried about a cluster of recent human deaths from the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu. Seven people from the same family in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, died from the disease earlier this month.

Peter Cordingley, a WHO spokesman, said there was no sign of diseased poultry in the immediate area. Indonesia is second only to Vietnam in the list of countries with the most bird flu deaths.

The Ministry of Health in Indonesia confirmed an additional case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The case occurred in a 32-year-old man, who developed symptoms on 15 May and died on 22 May.

The case is part of a family cluster in the Kubu Sembelang village, North Sumatra. The man is the seventh member of an extended family to become infected with the H5N1 virus and the sixth to die. An initial case, though unconfirmed, is also thought to have died of H5N1 infection. The newly confirmed case is a brother of an initial case. His 10-year-old son died of H5N1 infection on 13 May. The father was closely involved in caring for his son, and this contact is considered a possible source of infection.

Although the investigation is continuing, preliminary findings indicate that three of the confirmed cases spent the night of 29 April in a small room together with the initial case at a time when she was symptomatic and coughing frequently. These cases include the woman’s two sons and a second brother, aged 25 years, who is the sole surviving case among infected members of this family. Other infected family members lived in adjacent homes.  Although human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out, the search for a possible alternative source of exposure is continuing.

Both the Ministry of Health and WHO are concerned about the situation in Kubu Sembelang and have intensified investigation and response activities. To date, the investigation has found no evidence of spread within the general community and no evidence that efficient human-to-human transmission has occurred.

Full genetic sequencing of two viruses isolated from cases in this cluster has been completed. Sequencing of all eight gene segments found no evidence of genetic reassortment with human or pig influenza viruses and no evidence of significant mutations. The viruses showed no mutations associated with resistance to the neuraminidase inhibitors, including oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Experts have long feared that if the virus did mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, there could be worldwide pandemic of the disease.

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Article Information

Title: Bird flu cluster alarm
Author: Sue Knights
Article Id: 343
Date Added: 24th May 2006

Sources

World Health Organisation
BBC News

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