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Lone Indonesia bird flu survivor goes home MEDAN - Jones Ginting can't remember much of his battle with bird flu, and it's probably for the best. For the first two weeks, he slipped in and out of consciousness at Adam Malik Hospital. His skin stuck to the sweaty sheets as a fever raged. His arms were as rigid as steel pipes. When he did come to, he was delirious and agitated, fighting nurses who were trying to give him the antiviral drug Tamiflu. And always, always, he was struggling to breathe.

Looking back, Ginting might have remembered how his family had gathered for a feast in late April, laughing and chatting, eating chicken curry and grilled pork as the children played. Then, one by one, they started falling sick and dying. First his sister, then nephews, a niece and two other siblings.
B Suddenly, world attention focused on the family in the tiny Christian farming village on Sumatra island. Seven of the eight sickened relatives tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus, the World Health Organization said. And though specimens were not taken from Ginting's sister before burial, she is considered part of the world's largest reported cluster.

The WHO later said she likely got infected from contact with poultry, then passed the virus on to other relatives through limited human-to-human transmission. The spread stopped with the eighth blood family member, and no one else became sick. Still, the size of the cluster was enough to rouse international concern. Until then, most bird flu cases were linked to contact with infected birds. Bird flu has killed at least 133 people since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Indonesia has seen a flurry of cases this year and is tied with Vietnam for the world's most human deaths - 42.

Ginting, 24, was scared and confused initially, refusing to believe that bird flu was to blame. After being admitted to the hospital in May, he fled. His wife, Amnestia Tarigan, and their two small boys raced to a nearby doctor who was a relative. Ginting took some medicine, then visited a traditional healer. His condition worsened and he was eventually brought back to the hospital in Medan.

"Jones was afraid to stay at the hospital because his brother and other relatives had died there," recalled Amnestia, 23. "He was afraid he would die there. That's why he ran." The struggle was not over. His head pounded and it "felt like a hammer was hitting my hips again and again." Blood gushed out of his nose and he had two-hour coughing fits that left him exhausted.

"I had no hope at all," Ginting told The Associated Press as he rested at a relative's house in Medan. "I thought maybe I could die at any time. Just die - that's it." Even his doctor didn't think the young man with the shaved head and colorful tattoos would make it. "Everybody was surprised. The international doctors were all surprised. How can he survive?" asked Dr. H. Luhur Soeroso, a specialist who treated Ginting. "Everyone told me, it's a miracle."

But Ginting wasn't just fighting bird flu. The virus had attacked his lungs and weakened his immune system, inviting other infections. After complaints of a stiff neck and headaches, tests revealed multiple brain abscesses caused by parasites. Dark patches were also visible on lung X-rays, and Soeroso worried that severe pneumonia was causing further damage.

Even after Ginting tested negative for bird flu, the splotches remained. He began feeling better in late June and was released from the hospital last week, but he must return for weekly checkups for the next six months. Yet for the moment, the family is at peace. Ginting's 61-year-old mother, Jenda Kem Sembiring, sits on the floor in a traditional sarong. She smiles when she speaks of her son's recovery: "I never forgot to pray to God and thank God."

She also never left her son's side for the two months he was hospitalized. She lost three children and four grandchildren to the virus that experts fear could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic. Ginting's wife said everyone thought it was black magic at first, but now the family is convinced it was the H5N1 virus. Why she and the children never became sick - they were all in close contact throughout the ordeal - is still a mystery.

Ginting says the experience helped him stop drinking and smoking, but there's one thing he refuses to give up. "I do eat chicken," he said, as hens and chicks scratched and squawked outside the door. "I'm not afraid of chicken. I don't know why."

Link to related event Related event:
Bird flu in Indonesia

Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu') Related blog entries (category 'Bird Flu'):
21 July 2006 · 54th case of bird flu confirmed
14 July 2006 · Indonesia bird flu toll hits 41
07 July 2006 · Test shows girl dies of bird flu
23 June 2006 · WHO: Human bird flu transmission proven in Indonesia
23 June 2006 · Spread of bird flu ‘likely’ by personal contact

Posted in Bird Flu @ 24 July 2006 13:58 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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