- JAKARTA, Indonesia - A World Health Organization investigation showed
that the H5N1 virus mutated slightly in an Indonesian family cluster on
Sumatra island, but bird flu experts insisted Friday it did not increase
the possibility of a human pandemic.
- The virus that infected eight members
of a family last month - killing seven of them - appears to have slightly
mutated in a 10-year-old boy, who is then suspected of passing the virus
to his father, the WHO investigative report said.
- It is the first evidence indicating that
a person caught the virus from a human and then passed it on to another
person, said Tim Uyeki, an epidemiologist from the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. He said the H5N1 virus died with the father and
did not pass outside the family.
- "It stopped. It was dead end at
that point," he said, stressing that viruses are always slightly changing
and there was no reason to raise alarm.
- Dr. William Schaffner, a bird flu expert
at the Vanderbilt University, called the mutation "noteworthy but
not worrisome." Generally it takes a series of mutations in a bird
flu virus to raise the danger of a pandemic in humans, he said in a telephone
- Schaffner said it is remarkable that
scientists were able to discover a mutation that occurred in a remote village
in Indonesia. That's the result of intense surveillance linked with "21st-century
laboratory virology," he said. "That's awesome."
- The findings appeared in a report obtained
by The Associated Press that was distributed at a closed meeting in Jakarta
attended by some of the world's top bird flu experts.
- The three-day session that wrapped up
Friday was convened after Indonesia asked for international help. The country
has experienced an explosion of human bird flu cases this year and is on
pace to become the world's hardest-hit nation with 39 deaths.
- The government said it needed $900 million
over the next three years to fight the virus, which is ravaging poultry
stocks across the archipelago. Health experts urged full implementation
and funding of its national bird flu plan.
- "Human cases and clusters are expected
to continue to occur in Indonesia as long as avian influenza in poultry
persists," said Bayu Krisnamurthi, Indonesia's national bird flu coordinator.
- But Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie
said the virus has shown no sign of changing in any way that would allow
it to spread easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.
- So far, the H5N1 virus remains hard for
people to catch, and most human cases have been traced to contact with
- WHO concluded in its report that human-to-human
transmission likely occurred among seven relatives infected with the H5N1
virus. An eighth family member who was buried before specimens could be
taken is believed to have been infected by poultry, the report said.
- Despite the virus' slight mutation, Uyeki
insisted that an analysis suggested there was "nothing remarkable
about these viruses."
- Bird flu has killed at least 130 people
worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. Indonesia
trails on Vietnam, where 42 people have died, in human bird flu deaths.
- WHO and others continue to investigate
a report that a Beijing man originally thought to have SARS actually died
of bird flu in November 2003 - two years before the Chinese reported any
human H5N1 flu infections from the mainland.
- Eight Beijing scientists detailed the
case in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. At the last minute,
the lead author without explanation asked to have the report withdrawn,
but that was not possible because it was already printed. The journal has
been unable to reach the scientists to see whether they want to retract
- WHO had been unaware of the case.
- "We have asked the Ministry of Health
via a formal letter (our usual protocol) to clarify the report," said
Roy Wadia, a spokesman in WHO's China office. "The ministry says they
are investigating this report, and will get back to us soon."
- Efforts to reach the scientists for comment
have been unsuccessful.
- Associated Press reporter Zakki Hakim
in Jakarta, Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee and Science
Writer Malcolm Ritter in New York contributed to this report.