- (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
- "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.