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Bird flu killed Indonesian baby girl

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Mar 31 (Reuters) A one-year-old baby girl, who died this month, has been confirmed as Indonesia's latest bird flu victim, the Health Ministry said today, citing results from a World Health Organisation-affiliated laboratory.

The girl, from west Jakarta, is the country's 23rd victim of bird flu, senior ministry official I. Nyoman Kandun told Reuters after receiving results from the laboratory in Hong Kong.

He said it was unclear if the baby had had any contact with sick birds, the usual mode of transmission of the virus to people, but added there was a lot of fowl in her neighbourhood.

Indonesia first announced the death last Saturday, but had been awaiting confirmation of the cause.

The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread in birds at an alarming rate in recent months, sweeping through parts of Europe, down into Africa and flaring anew in Asia.

It is difficult for humans to catch but has killed 105 people, according to the most recent WHO figures.

Experts fear the virus could evolve into a form passed easily from human to human, causing a pandemic that could kill millions.

In Indonesia, the highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has affected birds in about two-thirds of the country's provinces.

Indonesia had the most bird flu deaths of any country so far this year.

Stamping out the virus is a huge, if not impossible, task in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago of about 17,000 islands and 220 million people.

The government has resisted the mass culling of fowl seen in some other nations, citing the expense and the impracticality in a country where the keeping of a few chickens or ducks in backyards of homes is common in cities and on farms.

Agencies have concentrated instead on selective culling, and on public education and hygiene measures aimed at prevention.

A sweeping door-to-door campaign to try to control the disease in the capital Jakarta, the country's biggest city which along with its suburbs has about 12 million people, only got underway at the end of February.

Agriculture officials estimate that Jakarta alone has some 500,000 fowl.

REUTERS KD RAI2157

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