Local tests show that an 8-year-old boy in Indonesia has died of bird flu, Health Ministry officials said Monday as they awaited confirmation from the World Health Organization. It was not immediately clear if the boy, who died last week in a dense residential area of the capital Jakarta, had contact with sick birds, said Hariadi Wibisono.
"We are still investigating the source," he said. The H5N1 bird flu virus has been ravaging poultry stocks across Asia since 2003 and has jumped to humans, killing at least 71, most in Vietnam and Thailand.
But Indonesia's caseload is steadily rising, with nine deaths so far confirmed by a WHO-affiliated laboratory in Hong Kong. Results for the boy and a 39-year man who also died last week are expected in the next few days.
Most human infections have been traced back to contact with sick birds, but health experts fear the current virus could mutate into a form that is easily spread among people, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions of people.
David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for bird flu, was in Indonesia on Monday as part of a region-wide tour to see what kind of preparations governments have been made in case that happens.
"We know that a pandemic will happen sometime," he said on an earlier stop to Cambodia. "We just don't know where, we don't know when, and we don't know how serious it will be,” reports the AP. I.L.