Indonesian woman dies of H5N1 strain of bird flu, lifting death toll to 54

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - A 67-year-old woman died overnight of bird flu, the second death in as many days, taking Indonesia's human toll from the disease to 54, Health Ministry and hospital officials said Monday.

The woman, who was also diagnosed with encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, was hospitalized with bird flu symptoms on Oct. 10 after coming into contact with fowl in West Java province, said Runizar Roesin of the National Bird Flu Information Center.

She died late Sunday, he said, a day after an 11-year-old boy succumbed to the disease in a Jakarta hospital.

Health officials were trying determine whether there was any link between bird flu and the woman's brain inflammation, said Hadi Yusuf, her chief doctor at the Hasan Sadikin hospital in Bandung town.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 148 people worldwide - more than a third of them in Indonesia - since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

Most of those killed have been infected by domestic fowl, but WHO fears the virus could mutate into a form that easily spreads among humans, sparking a pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country and home to millions of backyard chickens, is considered a hot spot for that to happen.

The government has been criticized for failing to aggressively deal with the virus in poultry stocks, either by mass slaughters or vaccination.

It says it lacks the resources to compensate farmers for slaughtered birds and earlier complained that while it needed US$250 million a year to fight bird flu it had received only US$100 million from its own coffers and the international community.


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