updated 1/11/2007 12:43:51 PM ET 2007-01-11T17:43:51

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed on Thursday the death of an Indonesian teenager from bird flu. A second Indonesian bird flu victim, a 37-year-old woman from Banten Province on Java island, was in hospital on Wednesday, WHO said.

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China said on Wednesday that a farmer from the eastern province of Anhui had contracted H5N1, the country's first human case in months. As in other human bird flu cases in China there was no reported poultry outbreak in the area, raising questions as to how he contracted the virus.

Separately, South Korea’s health ministry said on Thursday a poultry worker was infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu late last year, but had not been seriously ill.

Most human victims of bird flu have contracted the virus from infected birds, usually chickens, ducks or geese and there is usually a surge in cases during cooler months when the virus seems to thrive.

The 37-year-old Chinese man from the eastern province of Anhui kept backyard birds, but as in other human bird flu cases in China there was no reported poultry outbreak in the area, raising questions as to how he contracted the virus.

The man developed symptoms of fever and pneumonia early last month and was discharged from hospital on Saturday, the state-run Health News said.

“In China, the challenge is now to identify where this virus is hiding and how it is circulating,” Henk Bekedam, the WHO’s China representative, told Reuters.

China has reported 22 human cases, including 14 deaths, since 2003 and, with the world’s largest poultry population and millions of backyard birds roaming free, it is seen as a centre in the fight against the virus.

Bekedam said that as vaccination rates for birds improve in China, detecting avian influenza becomes harder and harder, offering a possible explanation for why there was no reported outbreak where the farmer lived.

Boy dies
Indonesia has the highest human death toll from bird flu of any nation, and on Wednesday that number grew to 58 when a boy, from Tangerang near Jakarta, died, said the head of the Indonesian health ministry’s bird flu center Runizar Ruesin.

The boy was admitted to hospital in the capital last week and deaths among poultry in his neighbourhood had recently been reported, the WHO said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Facts not fearsMuhammad Nadirin, another official at the country’s bird flu center, said hospital staff had to take extra care washing the boy’s corpse because of concerns the virus might infect them.

“He was washed using special protection methods to prevent contagion,” but added he didn’t know if it could be transmitted from human-to-human this way.

The H5N1 virus mostly affects birds, but it has infected 263 people in 10 countries since 2003, killing 157 of them.

Scientists fear the virus could mutate and spread rapidly between people, triggering a pandemic that could sweep the globe in weeks and possibly kill millions.

The outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza began in Asia in 2003 and spread rapidly in early 2006.

In Vietnam, bird flu has been confirmed in a fourth Vietnamese province after tests on 70 ducks showed they had died from the H5N1 virus, a government report said on Wednesday.

The virus that first struck the delta region in late 2003 re-emerged last month. Vietnam has had no human H5N1 cases since November 2005.

Following are some facts about the H5N1 avian flu virus and its spread around the globe:

  • Since the virus re-emerged in Asia in 2003, outbreaks have been confirmed in around 50 countries and territories, according to data from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
  • Since the beginning of January 2006, more than 30 countries have reported outbreaks, in most cases involving wild birds such as swans. The virus has killed 158 people since 2003, according to WHO. Countries with confirmed human deaths are: Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.
  • In total, the virus is known to have infected 264 people since 2003, according to WHO.
  • Many of those who have died are children and young adults.
  • Vietnam and Indonesia have the highest number of cases, accounting for 100 of the total deaths.
  • The H5N1 virus is not new to science and was responsible for an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Scotland in 1959. Britain confirmed a new case in Scotland on April 6.
  • H5N1 is not the only bird flu virus. There are numerous strains. For example, an outbreak in 2003 of the H7N7 bird flu virus in the Netherlands led to the destruction of more than 30 million birds, around a third of the country's poultry stock. About 2.7 million were destroyed in Belgium, and around 400,000 in Germany. In the Netherlands, 89 people were infected with the H7N7 virus, of whom one (a veterinarian) died.
  • The H5N1 virus made the first known jump into humans in Hong Kong in 1997, infecting 18 people and killing six of them. The government ordered the immediate culling of the territory's entire poultry flock, ending the outbreak.

Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, to eye inflammations (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.


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