Bird flu in Indonesia - source still a mystery

Indonesia's search for the source of the bird flu virus that killed three people near its densely populated capital, Jakarta, has ended in failure, the health minister said this week.

Health experts in Indonesia say they are unable to track down the source of the bird flu virus that has killed three people near the densely populated capital, Jakarta.

The country's health minister says that they have ended the investigation into how a man and his two young daughters contracted the deadly H5N1 strain last month; they were the country's first human casualties of the virus.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said that after lengthy research, they have decided to cease the investigation.

Supari said they have used all their knowledge and research to try to link the deaths of the family with every possibility.

Previously experts had said that locating the source of the infection would be the key to preventing further deaths.

But pinpointing the source was a difficult task in the world's fourth most populous country, with a sprawling archipelago dotted with small farms where even many urban families keep chickens.

After authorities tested more than 300 people who had contact with the family, no new human cases have been reported.

Supari also said tests on several people, including a news photographer, who had been under close observation for bird flu, proved negative.

The minister says they will increase alertness through surveillance, monitoring and technical preparations in hospitals and ports.

Indonesia has apparently prepared 44 hospitals across the country for the treatment of possible outbreaks.

Due to a lack of funds to compensate farmers, Indonesia has vaccinated healthy animals in affected areas rather than use the mass culling advised by the World Health Organisation.

Another person in Vietnam has recently died of bird flu, taking the number of deaths in Asia to 62.

Since mid-July outbreaks in wildfowl and poultry have also been recorded in Russia and Kazakhstan, raising again the fear of a worldwide pandemic.

It was confirmed this week that the strain in Kazakhstan was the deadly H5N1, or bird flu.

The virus has already spread to 21 provinces in Indonesia, killing around 9.5 million fowl.

There, earlier this year, the virus jumped species into pigs, on densely populated Java island.

According to health experts, pigs are able to carry human flu viruses, which can combine with the avian viruses, swap genes and mutate into a form which can pass easily among humans.

The Indonesian government, in an effort to help the industry cope, has launched a campaign to raise awareness that poultry is safe to eat if cooked properly.

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