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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Indonesia bird flu fears mount
The grieving family of five-year-old Riska Hardiyanti, suspected to be Indonesia's fifth bird flu victim
Young children are often the victims, leaving families distraught
At least 13 Indonesians are suspected to be suffering from bird flu, as fears of a major outbreak mounted.

Tests are also being carried out on three children who died this week after they showed symptoms of the disease.

Four Indonesians have been confirmed to have died from the H5N1 strain of the virus, which has already killed dozens of people across Asia.

Indonesian officials urged people not to panic, saying there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

Health officials fear that if the virus combines with the human influenza virus, it could become highly infectious and lead to a global flu pandemic.

Misinformation has caused society to panic
Indonesia's Republika paper

According to the BBC correspondent in Jakarta, Rachel Harvey, the increase in the number of suspected cases in Indonesia could be partly due to an increase in public awareness.

There is now saturation coverage of the bird flu outbreak on television, radio and in newspapers, she says.

"With increased surveillance its not unusual that you would pick up more cases," said Dr Margaret Chan, the WHO's representative on bird flu.

New measures

Tests have yet to confirm whether two young girls, aged five and two, died of bird flu in Jakarta on Wednesday.

A five-year-old boy who died in Kalimantan, Borneo, on Thursday also showed symptoms of the disease.

Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong, 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Isolated cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong and Vietnam, but none confirmed

Officials say they are still not certain how the three children could have contracted the bird flu virus.

The first case of human infection in Indonesia was announced in July, 18 months after the government acknowledged that bird flu was present in the country's poultry flocks.

Earlier this week Health Minister Siti Fadila Supari warned that Indonesia could be facing an epidemic, remarks which were later played down by other officials.

But the government is evidently worried. Health officials were to meet in Jakarta on Thursday to discuss the issue, and the authorities have already instituted tough new measures including the power to force people suspected of having bird flu into hospital.

Despite the spread of the disease in Indonesia, the outbreak is still being classified at a level three alert, Dr Chan said.

WHO's pandemic alert has six phases, ranging from zero infection in birds and humans to a full-scale pandemic.

The WHO has urged countries with infected poultry to use widespread mass culling as the best method of stopping the spread of the disease.

But the Indonesian government has only carried out limited culling, preferring to vaccinate poultry because of the expense of compensating farmers.

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The family of a suspected bird flu victim mourns

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