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Indonesia says bird flu outbreak an epidemic


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Indonesia says bird flu outbreak an epidemic

Sep 21 2:45 AM US/Eastern


By Telly Nathalia and Dan Eaton

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia called an outbreak of bird flu in its teeming capital an epidemic on Wednesday as health and agricultural experts from around the world converged on Jakarta to help control the virus.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said the emergence of sporadic human cases of bird flu in recent months in and around different parts of Jakarta, home to 12 million people, warranted the epidemic tag.

She was speaking before announcing that an initial local test on a five-year-old girl who died on Wednesday after suffering from bird flu symptoms was negative for the virus.

"This can be described as an epidemic. These (cases) will happen again as long as we cannot determine the source," Supari told reporters, but she insisted it would be wrong to label it a "frightening epidemic."

Four Indonesians are already confirmed to have died since July from the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed a total of 64 people in four Asian countries since late 2003 and has been found in birds in Russia and Europe.

Six other patients are still in a government-designated hospital in Jakarta suspected of having avian flu.

The U.N. World Health Organization last week warned bird flu was moving toward a form that could be passed between human beings and the world had no time to waste to prevent a pandemic, an outbreak that spreads far more widely than an epidemic.

Supari said the girl who died had been suspected of suffering from the virus. She said more local testing needed to be done, while blood samples would also be sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong for confirmation.

Georg Petersen, the WHO representative in Jakarta, said many foreign experts were helping Indonesia, including a high-level delegation from the United States that was currently here.

"Definitely the whole international community is very much present," Petersen told Reuters in a telephone interview.

The WHO was also working with the government to source new stocks of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu from India to bolster local stocks, he said.

"It's not very much, it's rather puny. They definitely need some more," Petersen said, adding that stocks being rushed from India were less than 1,000 doses.

Tamiflu is an anti-viral tablet that can help against infection. Several companies are working on a vaccine, but tests are not expected to begin until later this year.

Supari said Indonesia had 10,000 Tamiflu tablets.


Agriculture Minister Anton Apriyantono said Indonesia would conduct a mass cull of poultry where any outbreak of bird flu was serious.

"We haven't identified the high-intensive areas but once it is done then there will be (a mass cull). According to the president, funds will not be a problem, if it needs to be done then we will do it with all our resources," he told Reuters.

Officials have previously said the government did not have enough money for a mass cull or to compensate farmers.

The government has appealed for public calm over the virus, which has dominated local media reports in recent days.

On Monday, the government imposed a state of high alert, which gives authorities the power to order people showing symptoms of the virus to be hospitalized.

Despite growing alarm about bird flu in Indonesia, Fauzi Ichsan, an economist at Standard Chartered in Jakarta, said there was no immediate concern it would hit Southeast Asia's largest economy.

"The fact that we are an archipelago means, geographically, the disease might not be as problematic...," he said.

The latest suspected cases in Indonesia included a worker and two food vendors at the city's main zoo, which was closed this week after tests found some exotic birds in the zoo's collection were infected.

Besides Indonesia, bird flu has killed 44 people in Vietnam, 12 people in Thailand and four in Cambodia.

(Additional reporting by Tomi Soetjipto, Harry Suhartono and Ade Rina)




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