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World Health Organization confirms fourth avian flu death in Indonesia

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GENEVA (CP) - The World Health Organization announced Thursday a fourth avian influenza case has been confirmed in Indonesia and warned the onset of the wet season will likely lead to others in coming months.

The case involved a 27-year-old woman who developed symptoms on Sept. 17, was hospitalized two days later and died on Sept. 26. A WHO reference laboratory in Hong Kong confirmed she suffered from H5N1 avian flu. Investigations on the ground revealed the woman had contact with diseased and dying chickens shortly before falling ill, the agency said in a release.

The woman is the fourth laboratory-confirmed case and the third confirmed fatality in Indonesia. The country has blamed three other deaths on avian influenza, but test results from those cases were ambiguous and they haven't been added to the official WHO list.

Dozens of suspected human cases have been hospitalized in Indonesia, where outbreaks in poultry are currently widespread. But WHO noted that the vague case definition means officials are casting a wide net, and that some of those people may not have the infection.

"There's a very broad case definition bringing in a large number of people, which is appropriate. It's going to take some time to sort that out," said Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the communicable diseases branch of WHO.

With H5N1 avian influenza now endemic in poultry in many parts of Indonesia, and with the wet season - November to April - approaching, the WHO warned further sporadic human cases can be anticipated.

According to WHO's official count, there have been 116 cases and 60 deaths since the current wave of H5N1 outbreaks in poultry began in late 2003.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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