JAKARTA (Reuters) - An international test has confirmed a 44-year-old Indonesian fried chicken vendor who died earlier this month had bird flu, a senior health ministry official said on Thursday.
The man, from east Jakarta, died on July 12. His death brought to 42 the number of Indonesians killed by the bird flu virus. The populous southeast Asian country has recorded more human deaths from the disease this year than any other country.
"The man was confirmed to have bird flu by the Hong Kong laboratory. There were dead chickens around him, but chickens around his neighbourhood tested negative for bird flu," I Nyoman Kandun, director-general of communicable disease control at the Health Ministry, told Reuters.
Contact with sick or dead poultry is the usual mode of transmission of the H5N1 bird flu virus, which is endemic in nearly all of the country's 33 provinces.
"He had contact with chicken every day when preparing fried chicken. All his family members have tested negative for bird flu," said Runizar Ruesin, the head of the health ministry's Bird Flu Information Centre.
While Indonesia has sophisticated laboratories, bird flu tests still need to be confirmed by World Health Organisation-affiliated testing centres, usually in Hong Kong or the United States.
Human cases of bird flu have been rising steadily in Indonesia since its first known outbreak in poultry in late 2003. Earlier this month, a three-year-old girl died of the virus.
Worldwide, the disease has killed at least 132 people since it re-emerged in east Asia in 2003.
Vietnam has also recorded 42 deaths but has managed to bring the disease under control. Its last human death occurred in 2005.
Indonesia has been criticised for not doing enough to stamp out H5N1, which still remains essentially an animal disease but experts fear could spark a pandemic if it mutates into a form that can pass easily among people.
The agriculture ministry said earlier this month Indonesia's death rate from bird flu was worsening, possibly due to limited vaccination of poultry.
The government has so far shied away from mass culling, citing lack of funds and impracticality in a country with millions of backyard fowl. Vaccination is the preferred method to prevent the spread of bird flu among poultry.