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Indonesian toddler dies of bird flu - local test

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, July 7 (Reuters) A 3-year-old Indonesian girl who died this week has tested positive for bird flu, a Health Ministry official said today, citing a local test.

If confirmed by a World Health Organisation (WHO) laboratory, the girl from Jakarta's western suburbs will be the 41st bird flu death in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago where the virus has killed millions of fowl and which has had more human deaths this year than any other country.

''The child had had contact with sick fowl, the neighbour's chicken,'' Runizar Ruesin, head of the health ministry's Bird Flu Information Centre, told Reuters.

Human cases generally stem from contact with infected birds.

''She died yesterday, nine hours after being admitted in the hospital,'' he said.

According to the WHO, the H5N1 avian flu has killed 131 people across the globe since 2003. In Indonesia, 40 people are confirmed by WHO tests to have died from the virus, endemic in poultry in nearly all the country's 33 provinces.

A senior Indonesian government official yesterday said the country's poultry death rate from bird flu was worsening, possibly due to poor vaccination coverage.

Mathur Riyadi, director general of livestock production at the agriculture ministry, said one million fowl, half of them quail, died of bird flu in the first three months of 2006.

In 2005, deaths for the year as a whole were 1.2 million.

The government has so far shied away from mass culling, citing lack of funds and impracticality, with vaccination a preferred method to prevent the spread of bird flu among poultry.

Animal health experts say a large numbers of backyard farms and a lack of resources are a major impediment for effective vaccination in Indonesia, a sprawling country of 17,000 islands stretching across 5,000 km.

It is common for Indonesian households to keep a handful of chicken for personal consumption or gaining extra revenue. The National Commission of Avian Flu Control and Preparedness estimates there are around 300 million such backyard chickens.

Health experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that could be transmitted easily among people, causing a pandemic that could kill millions.

REUTERS AD RAI1035

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