Indonesia's death toll from bird flu now at 51

Indonesia's death toll from bird flu has now reached 51 with the death last week of a young child from South Jakarta.

Health officials say the 9-year-old boy from Ciputat Raya died in a hospital in Tulungagung, in East Java on Monday, after becoming sick on September 13 and developing a fever and cough and breathing difficulties.

The officials say tests by two laboratories have confirmed he had the disease.

The scattered archipelago of 17,000 islands now has the world's highest human death toll from the H5N1 virus, and has reported more bird flu deaths this year than any other nation.

According to the health ministry's bird flu information centre, the boy had been in contact with chickens in his home that had died.

His death follows that of an 11-year-old boy from East Java province who also died last week and also had chickens die around his house.

Officials are apparently sending a team to investigate the cases but it is widely acknowledged that disease is endemic in poultry across most of the country.

Almost all cases of bird flu in humans have been contracted from diseased poultry and the disease does at present remain one which mainly affects birds.

However the fear prevails that the virus will ultimately mutate to a form which could be easily passed from human to human, triggering a pandemic with the potential of killing millions.

The World Health Organisation says the H5N1 avian flu virus has killed 144 people worldwide, not including the deaths of the two boys since late 2003.

Most of the deaths have been in East Asia, but the virus has also spread to Europe, Africa and South and Central Asia.

Indonesia has been the focus of sharp criticism in the past for not doing enough to combat the disease, but David Nabarro the UN bird flu coordinator, says that Indonesia is making progress in its fight against the deadly virus but has expressed disappointment at the slow flow of funds pledged by international donors to Indonesia for the effort.

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