JAKARTA (Reuters) - A 44-year-old Indonesian who died four days ago has tested positive for bird flu, a senior Health Ministry official said on Sunday, citing a local test.
If the diagnosis is confirmed by a laboratory sanctioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the East Jakarta man would be the 42nd bird flu death in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago where the virus has killed millions of fowl and caused more human deaths this year than in any other country.
Confirmation would take Indonesia level with Vietnam as the country recording the most human fatalities from the H5N1 strain of the avian flu virus. Vietnam's 42nd death occurred in 2005.
"Like so many other bird flu cases, the man had contact with a dead chicken in his neighbourhood. He died on July 12 and we are now waiting for the confirmation," I Nyoman Kandun, director general of communicable disease control at the Health Ministry, told Reuters.
According to the WHO, the H5N1 strain has killed 132 people across the globe since 2003. The global health arm has so far confirmed 41 deaths in Indonesia, where the virus is endemic in poultry in nearly all of the country's 33 provinces.
Earlier this month, a senior government official said Indonesia's poultry death rate from bird flu was worsening, possibly due to poor vaccination coverage.
In 2005, deaths for the year as a whole were 1.2 million.
Indonesia has been criticised for doing too little to stamp out the H5N1 virus, which remains essentially an animal disease but which experts fear could spark a pandemic if it mutates into a form easily transmissible between humans.
The government has so far shied away from mass poultry culling, citing lack of funds and the impracticality of the move in a country with millions of backyard fowl. Vaccination is the preferred method to prevent the spread of bird flu among poultry.
Indonesia drew international attention in May when the virus killed seven members of a single family in North Sumatra. Experts said there could have been limited human-to-human transmission in the cluster case.
On Thursday, the leading science journal Nature reported that multiple mutations had been found in the H5N1 virus that killed the Sumatra family although scientists are unsure of their significance.