Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Avian flu revisited: Outbreak in Indonesia

A couple of days ago, I wrote about avian flu as the next major pandemic (before I veered off to address the phenomenon of media hype). Whether or not avian flu becomes the next major pandemic remains an open question, but there is now no doubt that is has become an epidemic in Indonesia:

Indonesia called an outbreak of bird flu in its teeming capital an epidemic on Wednesday as health and agricultural experts from around the world converged on Jakarta to help control the virus.

Health Minister Siti Fadillah Supari said the emergence of sporadic human cases of bird flu in recent months in and around different parts of Jakarta, home to 12 million people, warranted the epidemic tag...

"This can be described as an epidemic. These (cases) will happen again as long as we cannot determine the source," Supari told reporters, but she insisted it would be wrong to label it a "frightening epidemic."

Four Indonesians are already confirmed to have died since July from the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed a total of 64 people in four Asian countries since late 2003 and has been found in birds in Russia and Europe.

The WHO is clearly right to be warning of (and preparing for) the possibility of a pandemic, especially if a new variant emerges that can be passed between humans. This may be happening on the other side of the world, but it's a story worth monitoring.

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