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Indonesian Teenager Dies of Bird Flu

A teenage girl has died of bird flu in Indonesia, taking the death toll in the nation worst hit by the virus to 79, a health ministry official said Friday.

The 15-year-old died on Tuesday, four days after she was admitted to hospital on the main island of Java, the official said.

She fell ill after handling and eating a dead chicken at her home in Kendal district in Central Java, said Muhammad Nadirin from the ministry's bird flu information centre.

"Four out of six chickens at her house died suddenly on May 12. One of the dead chickens was cooked and eaten by the victim," Nadirin said.

Contact with infected birds is the most common form of transmission of the deadly virus to humans, experts say.

"She became the 79th victim to die," the doctor said.

The virus is widespread among birds in the vast archipelago nation where poultry and humans live in close proximity.

The government had hoped to halt human deaths from the virus in 2007, and banned the popular practice of keeping poultry in the backyards of homes in the capital Jakarta. But 22 people have perished this year after contracting the virus.

The latest death comes after officials started to distribute kits containing masks, gloves and bars of soap, in a new initiative to fight the virus.

About 100,000 leaders of villages will receive the kits, which also contain educational material about the virus, and urges them to take precautions when handling poultry. The first kits were handed out in Tenggulun Timur village this week in a high-risk area of West Java, officials said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the virus has killed more than 185 people worldwide since the end of 2003, mostly in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam this week reported the virus among poultry has hit 12 provinces, raising concerns about its spread in the nation. It also recently reported i ts first human case in 18 months, a 30-year-old man who is undergoing treatment in hospital.

Scientists worry the bird flu virus could mutate into a form easily spread among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions. The fear stems from the lessons of past influenza pandemics. One in 1918, just after the end of World War I, killed 20 million people worldwide.


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