Indonesia Bird Flu Death Toll Rises to 6

Monday, September 26th 2005, 11:14 am
By: News On 6

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ The death of a 27-year-old woman Monday took Indonesia's death toll from bird flu to six as the government announced that 400,000 tablets of donated medicine to fight the virus would soon arrive in the country.

Another four people have tested positive for the virus since July _ though some of them have not shown any symptoms and others have made a full recovery, said I Nyoman Kandun, director general of Communicable Disease Control at the Health Ministry.

At least 34 other people are under observation in hospitals nationwide after showing symptoms of bird flu, or the H5N1 virus, said Kandun.

Despite the growing toll from the virus, Health Minister Siti Fadila Supari told reporters that ``the situation appears to be in control,'' repeating earlier assurances that the disease was not spreading between humans.

``The death toll is much less than in Vietnam, so the people must not panic,'' he said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, jumping to humans and killing at least 65 people _ more than 40 of them in Vietnam _ and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds. But the World Health Organization has warned that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans _ possibly triggering a global pandemic that could kill millions.

Supari said 200,000 tablets of the anti-viral drug oseltamivir, known commercially as Tamiflu, would be available Tuesday and another 200,000 tablets by Friday.

She said the medicine _ enough to treat 40,000 people at 10 tablets per person _ was being provided by donor countries and agencies, but gave no more details.

Tamiflu is the only treatment so far proven effective against bird flu in humans.

The woman who died early Monday had been treated for symptoms of the virus since Thursday at the government-designated hospital for suspected bird flu cases, said Dr. Sardikin Giriputro.

Kandun said that blood and saliva tests confirmed she had the disease, but that samples had also been sent to a Hong Kong laboratory as was standard under World Health Organization guidelines.

The Australian government pledged Monday to help Indonesia speed up its response to bird flu, saying it will donate enough anti-viral medicine to treat 40,000 people to its northern neighbor to help it cope with the illness.

Canberra had previously pledged 10,000 courses of the medicine to Indonesia.

``They have been caught a bit short to tell you the truth, and they're finding it difficult to handle,'' Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters in Adelaide.

Medication distribution was moving ``a little more slowly than we would have liked, but I think they're getting better organized now,'' he said.

It was not immediately clear if the 400,000 doses announced by Indonesia included Australia's contribution.