Bird flu death in Bali - Australians on alert

Health officials in Indonesia have confirmed the first human death from bird flu in Bali in a village in the north-west district of Jembrana, an area where poultry is known to be affected.

Officials say tests have shown the 29-year-old woman had been infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

The woman died of multiple organ failure on Sunday; her 5-year-old daughter who died a week earlier had also been suffering from similar symptoms but the cause of her death remains unclear.

It is also unclear whether the woman contracted bird flu from the chickens or from her daughter.

According to Joko Suyono, the head of Indonesia's National Bird Flu Commission, dead chickens were found around the around the woman's home in a village in the island's west.

Concern has been raised by reports that some of the villagers had fed the dead chickens to pigs rather than burn them.

Indonesia is the world's worst affected country and has Asia's highest incidence of bird flu; to date 82 people have died from it in the country.

Since the H5N1 virus emerged in South East Asia in late 2003, it has claimed more than 190 lives around the world.

Indonesia health officials have had a battle getting the bird flu message through to people particularly in rural areas.

Almost all cases of the deadly virus in humans have occurred because of close contact with infected poultry.

Experts fear the virus could mutate to a form which could be easily passed from human to human, triggering a pandemic and potentially putting millions of lives at risk.

Bird flu has been endemic in Bali's poultry population since 2003 and health officials say they will intensify efforts to eradicate bird flu from Bali and will work with the tourism industry to try to make sure it does not affect the island's economy.

Attempts by Indonesia's bird flu task force to educate people across the archipelago on how to avoid catching the virus from their birds have clearly failed and this latest case serves to illustrate the problems authorities have in getting the message through.

The death is another blow to Indonesia's tourism industry which is still struggling to recover from the Bali bombings.

Bali is a top tourist destination particularly for Australians and Australian health officials are said to be on high alert and are closely monitoring the investigation into the deaths.

It is unlikely there would be any immediate warnings for up to 5,000 Australians now on the island, because the infections occurred in a relatively remote area, hours away from tourist precincts.

The World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, says there was no need for tourists to panic as most cases occur in rural villages and not in tourist areas.

As many as 150,000 Australians visited Bali in the first half of this year, according to Indonesia's Statistics Bureau.

Indonesia has been in the news of late because of it's reluctance to share live samples of bird flu which are essential to the development of an effective vaccine.

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