Efforts to contain bird flu are failing in Indonesia, increasing the possibility that the virus may mutate into a deadlier form, the leading U.N. veterinary health body warned.
The H5N1 bird flu virus is entrenched in 31 of the country's 33 provinces and will cause more human deaths, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement released late Tuesday.
"I am deeply concerned that the high level of virus circulation in birds in the country could create conditions for the virus to mutate and to finally cause a human influenza pandemic," FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said.
Indonesia "has not succeeded in containing the spread of avian influenza," Domenech said, adding that there must be "major human and financial resources, stronger political commitment and strengthened coordination."
The H5N1 virus has killed at least 236 people in a dozen countries worldwide since it began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003. It has been found in birds in more than 60 countries, but Indonesia has recorded 105 deaths, almost half the global tally, according to the World Health Organization.
FAO's sharp warning comes amid a flurry of bird flu outbreaks across the region. Chinese officials earlier this week announced the H5N1 virus was responsible for killing birds in poultry markets in the southern city of Guangzhou. Meanwhile, India last week confirmed a fresh poultry outbreak near Calcutta. The country has been battling the virus since January, resulting in the death or slaughter of some 4 million birds.
In addition, Vietnamese health officials on Monday announced that the virus had killed an 11-year-old boy in the north, marking the country's 52 human death. The virus has resurfaced in several provinces, including the capital Hanoi, prompting the prime minister to put the entire country on alert. Two children in Egypt also were recently diagnosed with the disease.