Fifty polio cases and one bird flu case reported in Indonesia

Indonesia's health minister has announced that 50 polio cases have been diagnosed in the country since the disease re-emerged there last month.

He also reported the discovery of one human carrier of the bird flu virus after an outbreak hit the nation's bird population in March.

The first polio infections were reported in early May near the West Java city of Sukabumi, 100 km south of Jakarta.

These latest cases of polio show that the disease has spread to neighboring areas although all of them are on the western side of Java, the country's main island.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari says that to date there are 50 children confirmed of having polio.

Between May 31 and June 2, Indonesia inoculated 6.5 million children in West Java and two nearby provinces in an attempt to stamp out the disease, which can cause irreversible paralysis in a matter of hours.

A second round of immunization is planned in the same regions at the end of this month.

This is the first outbreak of the disease in Indonesia in a decade, which only one of a number of countries where polio has re-emerged after being imported from West Africa.

Saudi Arabia and Yemen have also suffered outbreaks.

Indonesian health officials suspect the virus may have been carried by a migrant worker or a Haj pilgrim who visited Saudi Arabia before returning to Indonesia.

Supari also confirmed there was a poultry worker in South Sulawesi province who had tested positive for the bird flu virus, the first human case in Indonesia since the disease spread to the country in late 2003 from continental Asia.

The worker, who apparently did not show symptoms of the disease, was only "exposed" to the H5N1 virus, which has killed 54 people across Asia, including 38 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and four Cambodians, since late 2003.

Indonesia's agriculture ministry has previously reported sporadic H5N1 outbreaks in fowl in South Sulawesi, West Java and Central Java in the first three months of this year, and confirmed last month that the virus had jumped species and had been discovered in pigs.

Scientists fear the avian flu, which is infectious in birds but does not spread easily among humans, could mutate into a form capable of generating a pandemic in which millions of people without immunity could die.

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