By NICHOLAS ZAMISKA
May 14, 2006 7:46 a.m.
An unusually large cluster of suspected bird flu cases among eight members of an extended family in Indonesia has caught the attention of local and international health officials on guard against any sign that the virus has evolved to spread easily among humans, the possible prelude to a pandemic.
After attending a recent family gathering, eight family members living on Sumatra island fell ill. Six of them have died in the past week or so, according to Nyoman Kandun, director general of disease control and environmental health at the Ministry of Health in Jakarta.
Local tests, which so far have proved very reliable, have shown that five of those family members were infected with the H5N1 virus, a deadly bird flu strain, although a laboratory in Hong Kong is currently in the process of confirming those results.
PREVENTING A PANDEMIC
<SUP>1</SUP> See an FAQ on avian flu<SUP>2</SUP>, an interactive global map<SUP>3</SUP> and track the latest developments in the Avian Flu News Tracker<SUP>4</SUP>.
Plus, see complete coverage<SUP>5</SUP>.
With similar, albeit smaller, human clusters in the past, health officials have presumed that the family members all fell ill after contracting the virus from the same sick birds -- all but ruling out the possibility of transmission among people.
The World Health Organization has sent a team to investigate, although Sari P. Setiogi, a spokeswoman for the health agency in Jakarta, said on Thursday that "it is still too early for conclusion at this stage." She was unavailable for comment on Sunday.
<REPRINTSDISCLAIMER>A nurse who attended to some of the patients also came down with an influenza-like illness, although she seems to have shown symptoms prior to treating the patients, according to Dr. Kandun. She and others in the family's village are currently being tested for the virus.
Since last year, there have been 33 human cases of bird flu that have been confirmed by the World Health Organization. Of those, 25 have been fatal.
Write to Nicholas Zamiska at email@example.com<SUP>6</SUP>
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