A man died of bird flu in one of the glitziest neighbourhoods of Indonesia’s capital, while a self-employed vendor in a remote Chinese village was sickened by the disease, authorities said today.
The Philippines, which is so far free of the H5N1 strain of the virus, started stockpiling tens of thousands of capsules of the only drug known to be effective against the disease in humans.
Bird flu has ravaged poultry stocks across Asia since 2003 and jumped to humans – killing at least 71, almost all of them in Vietnam and Thailand.
But the caseload in Indonesia, which is awaiting confirmation on its latest death from a WHO-affiliated laboratory in Hong Kong, is steadily rising.
Its nine confirmed human deaths have all occurred in the last six months, most of them in or near the sprawling capital of more than 10 million people.
The 39-year-old man who died earlier this week was a security guard for a foreigner in Kemang, a wealthy neighbourhood in southern Jakarta, and lived nearby.
Ten turtle doves found 50 yards from his house tested positive for the disease and were immediately killed, their bodies thrown into a large bonfire, said Health Ministry official I Nyoman Kandun.
The victim’s relatives and neighbours also were being tested for the bird flu, he said.
Most human bird flu deaths have been traced to exposure to sick birds, but health officials fear the virus could mutate into a form easily passed between humans, possibly triggering a global pandemic.
If that happens millions of people worldwide could die, health experts warn.
Fearing the worst, the Philippines started stocking up on the anti-viral drug Tamiflu.
It has received 75,000 capsules from Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug, with another 25,000 to 35,000 expected in January, said health official Dr. Luningning Villa.
“Basically, it’s a standby drug for treatment of avian flu cases coming from birds to humans, and it’s also a standby drug for cases of initial outbreaks of pandemic flu,” Villa said.
China has mounted an aggressive campaign to fight bird flu but suffered a setback yesterday when – after going 15 days without any new cases – a 35-year-old man tested positive for the disease.
The self-employed man from the eastern province of Jiangxi fell ill on December 4 after a bird flu outbreak was reported in ducks in his village, the China Daily cited the Health Ministry as saying.
Some 1,640 ducks in his village and 15,000 birds in the surrounding area were destroyed to stop the outbreak, the paper said, without providing details.
It was not clear if the man, the sixth person in China to be sickened by the virus, had contact with the infected birds.
“Local health authorities have taken measures to check the spread of the virus and the people who had close contact with the patient are under strict medical observation,” the China Daily said.
After taking root in Asia, the virus has spread to Europe and North American, where it so far has only infected birds.
But the ease with which is crosses borders has many governments alarmed.
Cambodia, which has reported only a few human deaths, said today it was culling 6,000 ducks smuggled across the border from Vietnam, stuffing them into sacks and burning them in pits using kerosene.
So Vitou, a Cambodian animal health official, said Vietnamese farmers were apparently smuggling birds across the border so they would escape slaughter amid an intense government campaign to stamp out the disease.