June 23, 2006

WHO says H5N1 mutated in Indonesia

GENEVA (Reuters) - The H5N1 birdflu virus mutated somewhat
among Indonesians in the largest known human cluster, but did
not evolve into a more transmissible form, the World Health
Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. agency, Maria Cheng, said the
result had come from its investigation into a recent cluster of
cases in northern Sumatra, where seven members of a single
family were killed in May.

"There was a mutation found, it was in a report recently
given to the (Indonesian) government. It was the summary of the
investigation into the northern Sumatra case," she told Reuters
in Geneva, in response to a query.

"But it did not mutate into a form that is more
transmissible because it didn't seem to go beyond the cluster,"
she added.

Indonesian and WHO officials closely monitored more than 50
contacts of the victims, keeping them in voluntary home
quarantine for several weeks following the outbreak, but none
developed symptoms, according to the Geneva-based agency.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has spread rapidly out
of eastern Asia in recent months. It almost exclusively infects
birds but has killed 130 people since 2003, mostly in Asia.

Experts believe it poses the greatest threat yet of a
pandemic, a global epidemic of flu that could kill millions, if
it acquires the ability to pass easily from human to human.