Human-to-Human Spread of Bird Flu Suspected in Indonesia

Posted on May 22, 2006

The Canadian Press reports that human-to-human transmission of bird flu is a possiblity in the death of Indonesian man who was killed by the H5N1 virus. One possiblity is that the man could have been infected by his son who also died from the bird flu virus.

"There's no supporting evidence to suggest that this is a continuing environmental source that we've uncovered yet in the investigation," said WHO spokesperson Dick Thompson.

"The investigation is still ongoing. We wouldn't discount the possibility that it is human-to-human transmission."

Limited spread of the virus among people is believed to have happened on several previous occasions. But in each of these suspected cases, transmission of the virus petered out. Sustained human-to-human spread of the virus would be needed to trigger a pandemic.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian official revealed that the man who died Monday refused treatment and fled from authorities after falling ill - behaviour that highlights the difficulties of disease containment in settings where an unfamiliar disease is extracting a high death toll.

Unfortunately, these are not the only cases in Indonesia. A Reuters story says five people in one family have died. Crawford Kilian at the H5N1 blog reports that two people have also died in Iran with symptoms of bird flu. Crawford, who has been feverishly covering H5N1, also had this to say about the recent mysterious shipment of Tamiflu to Asia by the U.S.
In North America we have an expression: "Give it the old college try."

In other words, when the other team is leading and the game is almost lost, don't give up. Make one more attempt to score a goal and win the game.

Since last summer, health authorities have considered the chance of smothering a pandemic outbreak in its cradle: Identify a real human-to-human spread. Send in an army of medical experts. Give Tamiflu or some other antiviral to every human being you meet in the neighbourhood. Kill every duck and chicken. Then hope you stamped it out.

Given the ominous outbreaks in Tanah Karo and Surabaya, I can well imagine that the Americans would ship Tamiflu to Indonesia. It would probably do more good there than in Los Angeles or Miami.

If Tamiflu was shipped there let's hope it works. WHO last updated the case chart on 5-19-06. The death toll for this year is already at 47, which is higher than an previous year.

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