Indonesian teenager dies of bird flu

A teenager has died of bird flu in eastern Indonesia, raising the country’s human toll from the disease to 47, the health minister said today, citing laboratory test results.

The 14-year-old boy from South Sulawesi’s capital Makassar appears to have been in contact with infected poultry, said Siti Fadilah Supari, adding that authorities killed chickens found near the victim's home.

Lab tests for the teen came back last night, she said.

The H5N1 virus has killed 142 people worldwide since ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003, hitting Indonesia the hardest.

Most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus – which remains hard for people to catch – will mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

Indonesia has come under fire for doing too little to stamp out the disease, which is endemic among some 500 million individually owned, or ’backyard,’ chickens. Slaughtering often isn’t carried out following outbreaks, vaccination is spotty and surveillance is weak.

The government says it lacks the needed funds and, at the same time, many villagers deny their birds have the virus, even in areas where chickens are dropping dead and where human cases have occurred.

Supari called on the public to “immediately inform officials if they noticed sudden deaths in poultry”.

The Agriculture Ministry, meanwhile, announced plans this week to vaccinate some 60 million chickens against bird flu ahead of the coming rainy season, when experts fear the virus might spread more easily.

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