WHO Probes Indonesia
Bird Flu Spread

From correspondents in Geneva

(Reuters) -- The World Health Organisation said it cannot rule out human-to-human transmission of bird flu in the deaths of six Indonesians.
The virus has not mutated to become more dangerous, the WHO emphasised. So far, virtually all of the 124 people killed by bird flu, most of them in Asia, have caught it from poultry.
Another suspected outbreak was denied today when Iran's health minister said two dead siblings who had reportedly tested positive for H5N1 had not had the virus. Despite the denials, international health bodies are likely to press Iran for more information on the cases, which would be the country's first if confirmed.
The deaths of the Indonesian family group, one of the largest clusters seen since the disease re-emerged in 2003, triggered fears the virus could be evolving into a type that could easily jump from person to person. Scientists say millions of people could die if the virus acquires this ability, perhaps by hooking up with a common flu strain. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today in the Indonesian cases there was no sign of mutation of the virus or rapid spread of the disease across a community that could indicate a pandemic was in the making.
"Sequencing ... found no evidence of genetic reassortment ... and no evidence of significant mutations," the United Nations health agency said in its statement.
However, given that those infected lived in close proximity in a village in North Sumatra and that some had cared for sick relatives before falling ill themselves, it was possible that humans were the source of infection at least in some instances.
"All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness," the WHO said.
"Although human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out, the search for a possible alternative source of exposure is continuing," said a statement on its website, which made clear there had been no "efficient" human-to-human transmission.
The agency said some human-to-human transmission has occurred before in other countries, but as in the Indonesian case, laboratory tests have given no indication of the feared mutation that would make the virus easier to catch and spread.
Indonesia - which has seen 33 human deaths, second highest after Vietnam - has struggled with a lack of trained personnel and equipment, public ignorance and suspicion of government workers while investigating the Sumatra case.,20867,19240128-1702,00.html




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