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Indonesia girl died last year from bird flu-ministry

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Apr 4 (Reuters) A delayed international test has confirmed that an 8-year-old Indonesian girl who died in July 2005 had bird flu, a health ministry official said today.

The government had problems getting adequate specimens of the girl's blood which delayed shipment to a World Health Organisation-affiliated laboratory in Hong Kong, Runizar Ruesin, head of the ministry's bird flu information centre, told Reuters.

The girl's father had been found positive for avian influenza and died in July while her sister, who also died that month, had the same symptoms but was not tested.

The new test result, which was received on April 3, takes Indonesia's confirmed death toll from the virus to 24 and the global number to at least 108.

Most victims of bird flu have had direct or indirect contact with chickens, but scientists fear the virus will mutate into a strain easily passed among people, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

Indonesia has had the most bird flu deaths of any country so far this year. The highly pathogenic strain of bird flu has affected birds in about two-thirds of the country's provinces.

Stamping out the virus is a huge, if not impossible, task in the 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 the 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 is home to about 12 million people, only got underway at the end of February.

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

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.

REUTERS DKS BST1109

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