Bird flu strikes as fears grow

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The Independent Online

An Indonesian woman has died from bird flu after buying chickens at a local market, lifting the national death toll from the disease to 87, a Health Ministry official said.

Blood tests confirmed the woman, 44, had the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease, said Joko Suyono.

Indonesia has been hardest hit by the virus since it began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003. Its human death toll now accounts for almost half of the recorded 200 fatalities worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Investigators were still trying to verify how the woman was exposed to the virus, usually fatal for poultry but hard for humans to contract, Suyono said.

Most human cases so far have been traced to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily between humans, potentially sparking a global pandemic.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country and home to millions of backyard chickens, is considered a possible hot spot for that to happen. So far, there have been 108 confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans.

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