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Indonesia Has Ninth Bird-Flu Death as Risk Mounts

Indonesia confirmed its ninth death from bird flu, increasing the risk of human infection in parts of Asia during the next few months.//

Swabs from a 35-year-old man who died in Jakarta last month tested positive for the H5N1 avian flu strain in a World Health Organization reference laboratory, Health Ministry officials said today. The report takes the number of confirmed human cases of bird flu in the world's fourth most-populous nation to 9.

The Indonesian Health Ministry was also testing samples from a 39-year-old man who died in Jakarta at 3 p.m. today, said a doctor at Sulianti Saroso hospital, where the man was treated. The patient was admitted to the hospital last night with Clinical symptoms indicative of bird flu. It is not clear if he had any previous contact with sick fowl.

The hospital, in north Jakarta, is one of 44 hospitals in the country designated to treat suspected bird-flu patients.

Indonesia's latest confirmed fatality was likely caused by infected fowl, the Indonesian health ministry's Hariadi said. The deceased man “had a history of direct contact with sick chickens," he said.

Now authorities are concerned about new cases and outbreaks among poultry and the increasing risk of the virus mutating into a form that is more contagious to people. In the past two years, infections have been more common in December and January, said Hitoshi Oshitani, leader of WHO's avian influenza outbreak team in the Western Pacific, last week.

Avian flu, confirmed as the killer of at least 70 people in Asia since 2004, is fueling fears of a pandemic that the Geneva- based WHO estimates may kill as many as 7.4 million people. There have been at least 137 human cases from the H5N1 strain, WHO said on Dec. 9.

Thailand has announced three bird-flu cases this month, adding to the two new infections that Indonesia and China have both confirmed since Dec. 1. Most of the human infections have been caused by contact with diseased poultry. Scientists are monitoring for any human- to-human transmission that may herald the start of a pandemic.

In drier air, droplets containing the virus are likely to be smaller and to pass more easily into human respiratory tracts, says Peter Cordingley, a Manila-based WHO spokesman. The risk is high at this time of the year with festivals such as Lunar New Year resulting in increased human contact with fowl, creating more opportunities for infection.

Last month, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he planned to order the nation's military to conduct house- to-house searches to find birds infected with the avian influenza virus in Jakarta and surrounding areas.

'If cases are still increasing in let's say a year that means our control measure is not effective enough,'' WHO's Samlee said.

The H5N1 avian flu strain, first discovered in China's Guangdong province in 1996, was reported in Eastern Europe in October. It is suspected birds in 12 villages in Ukraine's Crimea became infected. Wild migratory birds are believed to have introduced the virus.

In Thailand, poultry farmers have applied to the Board of Investment to spend about 3.1 billion baht ($75 million) building sheds for their fowl, Xinhua said today.

The enclosed shelters are preferred over open-air coops, because they protect poultry from migratory birds and because fowl raised in the sheds fetch higher export prices.

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