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WHO: Human-to-human bird flu transmission possible GENEVA - A family of eight people infected with bird flu in Indonesia may have passed the disease among themselves rather than individually catching it from poultry, but the World Health Organization is leaving its pandemic alert level unchanged, the agency said Wednesday. "All confirmed cases in the cluster can be directly linked to close and prolonged exposure to a patient during a phase of severe illness," said a WHO statement. "Although human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out, the search for a possible alternative source of exposure is continuing."

The agency's alert level remained Wednesday at 3, where it has been for months. That means there is "no or very limited human-to-human transmission." WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said it was unlikely the agency would raise the alert level in the immediate future. "We haven't seen evidence from Indonesia that the disease is passing easily from human to human," Cheng told The Associated Press.

She said WHO had considered convening a meeting of experts to debate whether to raise the alert level, but had decided that the current situation did not merit that step. "We had discussed that," she said. "But that is not going to happen." The agency has suspected that in rare cases bird flu may have passed from one person to another, but it usually has been caught by people from chickens and other poultry.

WHO said that testing indicated there had been no significant mutations in the virus. Experts have feared that a mutation of the virus into a strain that could easily pass among humans could set off a deadly flu pandemic. According to the WHO, 218 people have been confirmed to have been infected with bird flu since 2003, and 124 of them have died. The agency said the Indonesian Health Ministry had confirmed a man who died May 22 had been infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

He was the seventh member of an extended family confirmed to have become infected. An eighth person in the family, who died of similar symptoms May 4, was buried before tissue samples could be taken, so the cause of death could not be determined, but she is assumed to be part of the cluster, WHO said. The family lives in the Kubu Sembelang village, Karo District, of North Sumatra.

"The newly confirmed case is a brother of the initial case," WHO said. "Specimens were taken on 21 May and flown the same day to Jakarta. Tests run overnight confirmed his infection. His 10-year-old son died of H5N1 infection on 13 May. The father was closely involved in caring for his son, and this contact is considered a possible source of infection."

It said the investigation is continuing, but that preliminary findings indicate that three of the confirmed cases spent the night of April 29 in a small room with the first woman infected and that she was coughing frequently. That group included the woman's two sons and a second brother, who is the sole surviving case among infected members of this family, WHO said. Other infected family members lived in adjacent homes.

So far health workers have found no sign that the case has moved outside the family and there is also "no evidence that efficient human-to-human transmission has occurred." Laboratory testing has completed full genetic sequencing of two viruses isolated from cases in this cluster. That has found "no evidence of genetic reassortment with human or pig influenza viruses and no evidence of significant mutations," WHO said.

Such a change could have been dangerous, because it might combine the bird flu virus with a strain that would make it easily pass among humans.


Link to related event Related event:
Bird flu in Indonesia

Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu') Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu'):
23 May 2006 · H5N1 kills 2 more in Indonesia
22 May 2006 · Possible human transmission of bird flu probed
20 May 2006 · WHO reports 2 Bird Flu deaths
17 May 2006 · WHO confirms 5 more Bird Flu fatalities
16 May 2006 · Bird Flu infects Papua province as virus moves east


Posted in Bird Flu @ 24 May 2006 20:24 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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