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Bird flu human transmission probable in Indonesia

JAKARTA, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Human-to-human transmission of bird flu probably occurred in Indonesia's seven cluster cases, a minister said. But he ruled out a pandemic of H5N1 across the archipelago.

"Limited human-to-human transmission may have occurred in small clusters in the country. It has not only happened in several regions in Indonesia but also in Azerbaijan and other places in the world," Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said Friday after a meeting with agencies involved in curbing the spread of the disease.

Other health officials, contacted separately, were cautious about whether intrahuman transmission had occurred, the Jakarta Post daily reported on Saturday.

Among those in attendance at the meeting were officials from the health and agricultural ministries, World Health Organization, UNICEF, Food and Agriculture Organization and the National Commission on Bird Flu.

Indonesia has 37 fatalities from 50 confirmed human cases of bird flu, second only to Vietnam. Clusters have been identified in Tangerang, Banten, home to two outbreaks; Jakarta; Lampung; West Java (two); and North Sumatra. Poultry infections have been recorded in 29 of 33 provinces.

Although most cases in humans have been linked to contact with infected poultry and health experts believe the virus has maintained its present strain, limited cases of human transmission were suspected in Thailand in

Experts were puzzled by a seven-member cluster in a small North Sumatra village in May, which led to speculation human-to-human transmission occurred among family members.

A member of the National Commission on Bird Flu, Emil Agustiono,would not confirm Aburizal's statement. "We need to do more research to prove it," he said.

A leading Health Ministry official on bird flu, Hariadi Wibisono, also said the greater danger at present was from H5N1-positive poultry, not intrahuman spread.

"Above all, the public should not be panic but be wary of the threat from infected fowl," he told the Post.

Aburizal emphasized the public should not be worried because itwas not a pandemic, and the transmission of the virus continued to be from poultry. "There has yet to be a pandemic. The virus strain is still the same and it's still coming from infected poultry."

Intensified efforts to curb its spread would be made, he added, including poultry culls.

Aburizal said he would enforce the 1984 Epidemic Law and the 1967 Infectious Disease Control Law, which stipulate sanctions for people who obstruct the government's endeavors to control a plagueor communicable disease outbreak.

Meanwhile, vice coordinator for Avian Influenza Control Unit atthe Agricultural Ministry, Mastur A.R. Noor, said the office earmarked 30 billion rupiah (3.2 million US dollars) to compensate people whose poultry was culled.

He said his office would cull all poultry within a one-kilometer radius of an infection, estimating about 1,600 to 3,000 fowl birds would be killed within the range.

However, WHO officials could not be reached for comment on Aburizal's
comments. A statement on its website reads: "Although at present the virus is not spreading efficiently or sustainably among humans, human-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out." Enditem