Pet pigeons kept inside the home might be the cause of bird flu infection for a 17-year-old girl in Jakarta, Indonesia, who died on August 8, according to a report issued by Indonesia’s Ministry of Health and confirmed by the World Health Organization August 9.
The girl, who lived in a neighborhood where backyard poultry also were kept, developed symptoms July 28 and died August 8.
The young woman’s case is the 44th human death from avian influenza in Indonesia, and comes just one day after a 16-year-old boy died of the disease. (See related article.)
With these deaths, Indonesia has reported more human victims of avian influenza than any of the other 10 nations where the dangerous H5N1 viral strain has been detected in people. In 236 cases of human infection worldwide, 138 people have died since 2004.
Health authorities are concerned that the H5N1 strain could mutate to become a virus that easily infects humans, setting a disease pandemic in motion. So far, most infections have occurred through direct exposure to sick birds.
MONITORING NORTH AMERICA
Outbreaks of the dangerous H5N1 virus began appearing in birds in Southeast Asia in late 2003. Earlier in 2006, the virus broke out of Asia and rapidly spread across Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa with more than 50 nations now having reported detection of the virus in either domestic birds or wildlife.
The number of countries discovering human cases grew rapidly at the same time, but in most places the cases have remained isolated. The rapid movement of the virus at that time gave rise to predictions that H5N1 soon would arrive in the Western Hemisphere, but several more months have passed without a report in the Americas.
If the virus does make an appearance, the U.S. government wants to spot it early, announcing a plan August 9 to expand wild bird monitoring throughout the entire 50 states.
Animal health experts have been on the lookout for sick birds in Alaska for some while, anticipating that infected birds would follow a known migratory path out of Asia, across the Bering Strait and into North America. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) August 9 news release said 10,000 wild bird samples have been gathered over the last few months without detection of H5N1.
“Because we cannot control wild birds,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, “our best protection is an early warning system and this move to test thousands more wild birds throughout the country will help us to quickly identify, respond and control the virus, if it arrives in the United States.”
The USDA release also said officials believe the intensified monitoring will be of added importance in the months ahead as birds now nesting in Alaska and Canada fly south for the coming winter.
Federal agencies have worked cooperatively with state wildlife agencies to devise monitoring plans that will thoroughly sample wild bird species, the USDA said. The plan calls for collection of up to 100,000 wild bird samples from wildlife refuges, wilderness parks and urban and suburban settings such as ponds and city parks.
Additional information on the U.S. government’s wildlife monitoring plan is available on the Department of the Interior’s Web site.
The United States is one of the world’s leading international donors helping vulnerable nations respond to the threat of bird flu. (See fact sheet.)
For ongoing coverage, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)