JAKARTA, Apr 1 (Reuters) An Indonesian man has tested positive for the bird flu virus, one day after the government confirmed the country's 23rd human death from the disease, a health official said today.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread in birds at an alarming rate in recent months, sweeping through parts of Europe, into Africa, and flaring anew in Asia. It has killed at least 105 people since it re-emerged in late 2003.
''A 23-year-old man was positive (for the disease) according to a local test. He is at Jamil Hospital in Padang, West Sumatra,'' I Nyoman Kandun, Director General of Disease Control at Indonesia's Health Ministry, told Reuters.
''He is alive and so far is in stable condition,'' Kandun added, saying blood samples will be sent to a World Health Organisation-affiliated lab in Hong Kong for further tests.
Such labs are considered definitive in determining flu cases.
Indonesia has had 12 WHO-lab confirmed bird flu human deaths so far in 2006, the highest of any country. Yesterday, the health ministry said that tests had confirmed that a one-year-old baby girl who died this month was Indonesia's latest bird flu victim.
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.
Regarding the man who has tested positive, Kandun said: ''It was unclear whether he had any contact with sick chicken or not.'' 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, making it the world's fourth most populous country.
The government has resisted the mass culling of fowl seen in some other countries, 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.
Agriculture officials estimate that Jakarta alone -- where the 23-year-old man had recently been -- has some 500,000 fowl.
Agencies have concentrated 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.
Similar efforts elsewhere in the country have hit glitches ranging from poor funding to transportation problems.
REUTERS PG SP1110