The Jakarta Post, Irwan Firdaus, Associated Press, Jakarta | Tue, 03/03/2009 4:29 PM
Four Indonesians have died of bird flu, bringing the death toll in the country hardest hit by the disease to 119, an official said Tuesday.
Bayu Krisnamurthi, chief of the National Bird Flu Commission, said all the victims were believed to have been infected after coming into contact with sick poultry. They were from Java island and died in January and February.
Indonesia, which has been criticized in recent months for refusing to immediately make public news of human deaths and in some cases hushing them up all together, has been worst affected by bird flu since it started ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003.
It accounts for nearly half the 256 human fatalities tallied worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
So far, most human cases have been linked to contact with infected chickens. But health experts worry the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that passes easily among humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.
Indonesia is considered a potential hotspot for that to happen.
Krisnamurthi had little details about the latest deaths, saying only that two were siblings from the city of Bogor and the others were women from Bekasi and Surabaya.
Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari has withheld almost all virus samples from WHO since January 2007, arguing that its system is unfair because her country's bird flu specimens can be used to make vaccine that would ultimately be too expensive for most Indonesians and controlled by wealthy nations.
She has since called for the creation of a global stockpile of drugs or other forms of benefit-sharing.