06/26/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA - AZERBAIJAN
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Indonesia: Mutation in bird flu virus proven

This was discovered in human-to-human transmission among a family from Sumatra. But immediate danger has been excluded, in that the only family stricken had a genetic predisposition to the infection.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A mutation of the bird flu virus has been ascertained. Meanwhile, cases of infection from wild birds to humans have been confirmed.

"There was a mutation found" in the virus that killed seven members of the same family in northern Sumatra in May, said Maria Cheng, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO).  "But it did not mutate into a form that is more transmissible because it didn't seem to go beyond the cluster [of family members]."

WHO ascertained that the virus was transmitted among blood relatives of the same family, but it also verified that the sickness was not transmitted to the other people (more than 50) who came into contact with them and were put in quarantine, not even their own spouses. It was concluded that the infection was favoured by a special genetic predisposition of the family. The mutation of the virus was revealed in samples taken from the last two victims, a youth who infected his father.

"We did not find other infections," continued Cheng, "so the infective outbreak is over."

Malik Peiris, an expert from Hong Kong, said: "Influenza viruses always mutate. That's of course the reason why people are concerned that as we go on longer and longer the virus may change to become more transmissible."

Yesterday Indonesia – for months the country hardest hit by the H5N1 virus – received funding of 68.5 billion rupees (7.31 million US dollars) from the Australian government for a biennial programme against this evil.

Indonesian chief welfare minister, Aburizal Bakrie, said the government would need 900 million US dollars over the next three years to contain the virus. "The government has allotted [only] 50 million from the state budget for each of the next three years" and it wants to organize a meeting for donors in Jakarta to collect more funds.

Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan, the death of four people who caught the virus from wild swans was confirmed. It is the first official case of infection from wild birds to humans. The four people, from the district of Salyan, 90 miles north-east of Baku, used the dead swans' feathers for their cushions in early 2006. Another three people were infected but survived. All were aged between 10 and 20 years, and six out of the seven people were members of the same family.

"This is only the first ascertained case of infection from wild birds to humans," said Andreas Gilsdorf, epidemiologist of the Robert Koch Institute of Berlin, who led the research. "But there was very intense contact."

Nearly all the other cases of human infection arose from contacts with bred poultry.

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