Indonesia denies human to human spread of bird flu

The Indonesian government has been forced to speak out about the continued spread of bird flu in the vast archipelago following the release of an analysis which suggests the deadly virus had been spread by person to person contact.

In a mathematical analysis published last week in the U.S. journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases researchers say statistical evidence exists of human-to-human transmission in a cluster of cases on Sumatra island, in May 2006 where eight family members died.

The Indonesian health ministry have denied that there is the possibility that the H5N1 avian flu virus was spread in the country from one human to another; Siti Fadillah Supari, the health minister says the research findings are misleading.

However suspicions continue to prevail that Indonesian authorities may be downplaying that the virus may have been spread from person to person throughout the country, while the government dismisses them as irresponsible and untrue.

Supari says the research results present nothing new and only bird-to-human transmission has taken place and the news is merely an attempt to derail an international global-warming conference scheduled to be held on the resort island of Bali in December.

Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who studied two clusters of bird flu cases, developed a tool to run quick tests on disease outbreaks to see if dangerous epidemics or pandemics may be developing.

Dr. Ira Longini and colleagues say they found statistical evidence of human-to-human transmission in Sumatra, but not in Turkey.

Supari says Indonesia have sent H5N1 blood samples, including some from the latest human bird-flu cases on Bali, to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and no human-to-human transmissions have been revealed in the country.

The popular resort island of Bali, the centre of Indonesia's tourism industry, regularly plays host to large international conventions and is due to hold an important U.N. climate change conference in December with about 10,000 people expected to attend.

Bali recently had its first confirmed human fatalities from the disease.

Experts say bird flu is endemic in bird populations in most parts of Indonesia, where millions of backyard chickens live in close proximity to people.

Though it remains largely a disease of animals, particularly birds, experts continue to fear the virus will ultimately mutate into a strain able to spread from human to human, triggering a pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

Almost all human cases of bird flu to date have been the result of close contact with sick fowl.

Indonesia has reported 105 human cases of the virus, with 84 fatalities.

According to the World Health organization, globally there have been 327 cases and 199 human deaths from bird flu; Indonesia has the highest death toll to date.

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