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Published:June 7th, 2006 05:54 EST
United Nations health agency today ruled out human-to-human transmission of bird flu in four Indonesian nurses

United Nations health agency today ruled out human-to-human transmission of bird flu in four Indonesian nurses

By SOP newswire

The United Nations health agency today ruled out human-to-human transmission of bird flu in four Indonesian nurses tending patients with the disease, confirming that none of the nurses has the H5N1 virus and easing fears that it might already be acquiring the ability to spread more readily among humans.

“The negative test results for all four nurses provide reassuring evidence that the virus is not spreading efficiently or sustainably among humans at present,” the World Health Organization (<"http://www.who.int/en/">WHO) said, referring to the stage that could make a potentially deadly human pandemic more likely.

Two of the nurses cared for siblings, a 10-year-old girl and her 18-year-old brother, who were hospitalized in Bandung, West Java, on 22 May and died the following day. One nurse has now been shown to be infected with a seasonal influenza A (H1N1) virus, which is now circulating widely throughout Indonesia.

The second nurse experienced only mild, transient symptoms, but was tested urgently as a precaution. Her test results were also negative for H5N1 infection.

Two additional nurses at a hospital in Medan, North Sumatra, cared for confirmed H5N1 cases among members of an extended family from the village of Kubu Simbelang in Karo District. One of the nurses experienced only mild symptoms while the second developed an influenza-like illness, but test results received today are also negative for H5N1.

Although more than 200 million birds have died worldwide from either the virus or preventive culling, there have so far been only 225 human cases, 128 of them fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December 2003, and these have been ascribed to contact with infected birds.

But experts fear the virus could mutate, gaining the ability to pass from person to person and, in a worst case scenario, unleashing a deadly human pandemic similar to the so-called Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 that is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide by the time it had run its course two years later.

Indonesia is currently a main locus of the disease with 49 cases, 37 of them fatal, second only to Vietnam with 93 cases, 42 of them fatal, but no reported infections at all this year.