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Woman is first bird flu death on Bali

An Indonesian woman has died of bird flu in Bali, the first human death from the virus on the resort island hugely popular with foreign tourists.
/ Source: Reuters

An Indonesian woman has died of bird flu in Bali, the first human death from the virus on the resort island hugely popular with foreign tourists.

A health ministry official said on Monday the 29-year-old woman came from west Bali. She died on Sunday in hospital after suffering from high fever.

Her five-year-old daughter also died recently after playing with chickens but it was unclear if the girl died of bird flu.

Joko Suyono of the ministry’s bird flu center said a 2-year-old girl living close by had also developed bird flu symptoms, but was recovering in hospital. Test results had not come back yet.

News of the woman’s death will be a blow to Bali, which is the center of Indonesia’s tourism industry and has been trying to shake off the impact of several deadly bomb attacks by Islamic militants in recent years.

The woman from a village in the district of Jembrana was suffering from a high fever before dying of multiple organ failure, said Ken Wirasandi, a doctor at the Sanglah hospital in the Balinese capital Denpasar.

Suyono said by telephone a second laboratory test had confirmed the woman had the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Sick chickens
Suyono said there had been sick chickens around the woman’s house and many had died suddenly in recent weeks.

“The villagers didn’t burn the carcasses. Instead they buried them or fed them to pigs,” Suyono added.

Contact with sick fowl is the most common way for humans to contract the H5N1 virus.

The woman had started showing symptoms more than a week ago, but was only admitted to hospital six days later.

She was transferred to a bigger hospital in Denpasar on Friday, where she was treated in the isolation unit, Suyono said.

He said initial investigations indicated last month the daughter had become sick after playing with chickens and died a week later.

“We were unable to retrieve any tissue samples, so we can’t confirm whether she died of bird flu,” Suyono added.

Close proximity
Bird flu is endemic in bird populations in most parts of Indonesia. In Bali, as in the rest of the country, millions of backyard chickens live in close proximity with people.

Experts fear if the virus develops the ability to pass easily between humans, millions might die in a pandemic.

Indonesia has had 82 confirmed human deaths from bird flu, the highest for any country in the world.

Not including the latest death, there have been 319 confirmed human cases and 192 deaths globally, according to World Health Organization data.

The predominantly Hindu island in mostly Muslim Indonesia is starting to recover after suicide bombers killed 20 people in October, 2005. The attacks came after more than 200 died in nightclub bombings in late 2002.

The island regularly hosts large international conventions and is due to hold an important U.N. climate change conference in December in which about 10,000 people are expected to attend.

According to government data, tourist arrivals in Bali rose 34 percent to 781,059 in the first half of 2007 from a year ago.