Indonesia Reports Bird Flu Death; India Expands Slaughter

Indonesia said Wednesday a 27-year-old woman died of bird flu earlier in the week in Jakarta and authorities prepared to scour the capital for infected poultry.

India expanded a massive slaughter of chickens to halt the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in a southern state. Health officials in Egypt sought to reassure the public that Cairo's drinking water was safe after fears of bird flu sparked panicked buying of bottled water. And Russia declared a quarantine in 17 villages after the strain was detected in three farms.

International health experts expressed concern over the unprecedented spread of bird flu from Asia to Europe and Africa.

"We've never seen so many outbreaks of the same virus in so many different regions," said World Health Organization spokeswoman Maria Cheng. "Our concern obviously is that humans could potentially come into contact with birds infected with H5N1, which would mean populations worldwide are potentially at risk."

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people since 2003, mostly in Asia. Fresh outbreaks have been reported in birds in 14 countries this month.

Health experts say it remains difficult for humans to catch H5N1, but they fear the virus could mutate into a form more easily transmitted among people and set off a flu pandemic that could kill millions.

One of the countries experts are closely watching is Indonesia because of its high density of poultry and people. In the last nine months, 19 people have died in the country from bird flu.

Initial tests showed that a 27-year-old woman died of bird flu Monday in Jakarta, Health Ministry official Hariadi Wibisono said. Officials were awaiting confirmation from a WHO-accredited laboratory in Hong Kong.

Though Indonesia has so far resisted a mass slaughter of poultry, citing a lack of funding, officials said they would begin testing and slaughtering birds in infected areas of Jakarta on Friday.

India expanded a massive slaughter of chickens Wednesday, as top officials struggled to reassure the public it was safe to eat poultry products.

More than half a million birds have been killed in Navapur district since the virus was found in samples from some of the 30,000 chickens that had died recently. P.M.A. Hakeem, an official with the federal Department of Animal Husbandry, said another 80,000 would be slaughtered to contain the virus' spread.

Nine people with flu-like symptoms in Navapur have been hospitalized and tested for bird flu, causing chicken sales to drop across the country. Top health officials ate chicken at a news conference in New Delhi, as they tried to reassure people that properly cooked chicken and eggs were safe.

Egyptian authorities also tried to assure residents that Cairo's drinking water was safe after a rumor quickly spread that infected chickens had been tossed into the Nile and the city's reservoirs. There was a run on bottled water from supermarkets.

The fears came four days after Egypt announced that the H5N1 strain had been found in chickens and turkeys in Giza, the twin city of Cairo, and in southern provinces. No human cases of bird flu have been reported.

The Russian quarantine affected villages in the southern region of Dagestan, where 500,000 chickens have been destroyed or died this month. The chief veterinary official, Zaidin Dzhambulatov, said it was forbidden to transport fowl and poultry products from the villages. Strict restrictions were also placed on 10 other poultry farms.