05/31/2006, 00.00
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Bird flu strikes again in Indonesia with deadly results

A boy is rushed to hospital and dies soon after. His grandfather's chickens had died two weeks earlier. Many Indonesians view the virus as a natural calamity and do not take the necessary precautions.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The bird flu has killed again in Indonesia. A 15-year boy from Tasikmalaya town in West Java was rushed to hospital in the city of Bandung on Monday and died a day later, said Hariyadi Wibisono, director of Communicable Disease Control at the Ministry of Health. The boy's grandfather was a chicken farmer and 40 of his chickens had died recently.

The World Health Organisation confirmed Monday that a 15-year-old girl from Solok in western Sumatra has also tested positive for the bird flu and is fighting for her life. By contrast, the conditions of the sole survivor in a cluster of Indonesian relatives from Kubu Sembelang village in North Sumatra infected with bird flu are improving.

Johannes Ginting, 25, is still very weak, lying in an open-air hospital room, chickens pecking outside his door and visitors shuffling in and out without masks or protective gear.

Mr Ginting's mother sits outside her son's hospital room. At least six of her relatives died after being infected and a seventh family member was buried before samples were collected, but she seems unconcerned.

"I'm not afraid. I don't even wear a mask or anything," she said. "If it spreads, I will be the first one to die. Why would I have to be afraid of chickens around here? The ones who died, they didn't eat chicken, after all."

"We had actually given masks and gloves to the family, and we informed them how dangerous this disease is, but they didn't co-operate with us," said Nurrasyid Lubis, deputy director of Adam Malik Hospital. "Johannes doesn't want to be injected, doesn't want to take Tamiflu or other antibiotics," Mr Lubis added.

Nurses and doctors who enter Mr Ginting's room do not wear protective gear like masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and special boots, but no one interfered with the unprotected visitors.

Many people in Mr Ginting's farming village do not believe bird flu caused the deaths because no spouses or neighbours also got sick.

It is believed that the infection spread within the family through human-to-human transmission.

Scientists stress that the H5N1 virus has been transmitted between people in only a handful of other cases. And all such cases have involved passing the virus between blood relatives. Some experts theorise that may mean some people have a genetic susceptibility to the disease, but there is no evidence to support that. 

The bird flu has killed at least 124 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry in late 2003. In Indonesia there have been 49 recorded cases, including 36 deaths.

Indonesian authorities have been criticised for acting too slowly and doing too little to stop the spread of the disease. Many people still have never heard of the bird flu or simply deny it.

"It's a combination of poverty, little education and tendency to compare flu to other diseases or misfortunes. Without enough understanding, people see this as minor," said Bayu Krisnamurthi of the National Committee on Avian Influenza Control and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness. (PB)

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