JAKARTA (Reuters) - There is no evidence bird flu killed two brothers who died this month just days before a third sibling was admitted to hospital with the deadly virus, a senior Health Ministry official said on Wednesday.
Hariadi Wibisono also told Reuters that authorities had never taken blood samples from the two brothers of the 16-year-old boy, who is in stable condition in the city of Bandung in West Java.
Wibisono said it was unclear what killed the two brothers, aged 7 and 20, although the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday they had died after being diagnosed with typhoid.
"So far there is no concrete evidence the two brothers are linked to the (bird flu) case," said Wibisono, the ministry's director for stamping out animal-borne diseases.
A WHO spokeswoman in Geneva, Maria Chang, said on Tuesday the two brothers had never been tested for the H5N1 bird flu virus, leaving questions hanging over the cause of death.
Asked about Chang's comments, Wibisono said: "Not all deaths are due to bird flu."
The avian virus remains hard for people to catch but the fear is that it could mutate into a form that could be passed easily from person to person, sparking a global pandemic in which millions could die.
Bird flu has killed 68 people in Asia since 2003. Indonesia has had seven confirmed deaths from the virus. The 16-year-old boy is the fifth confirmed survivor here.
Chang said family chickens had died shortly before the deaths of the two brothers.
A team of WHO and Indonesian Health Ministry investigators had gone to their village to trace contacts of the surviving brother, who entered hospital on Nov. 16, Chang said.
"We could not exclude it (human-to-human transmission), but an investigative team has gone house-to-house to 80 households and hasn't found any symptoms in the wider community," she said.
"There is no reason to think there could be any clusters."
The WHO has previously said that possible cases of bird flu among family members in Indonesia did not mean the virus was mutating but could be caused by close contact normal in families.
A few of Indonesia's positive and suspected bird flu cases have involved members of the same family.