Overview - Avian Influenza
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation, is at the forefront of the battle against one of the latest and deadliest communicable diseases—avian influenza (AI). Commonly known as bird flu, AI is caused by the H5N1 virus, which circulates primarily among birds. Since 2003, it has spread from flocks in Asia to infect birds in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. In rare cases, people have been infected by bird flu too, mainly through contact with sick birds. To date, over 300 human cases have been confirmed worldwide, and more than 200 of these cases were fatal.
These tragic deaths could just be the tip of the iceberg. At present the H5N1 virus does not spread easily from birds to humans, or from humans to humans. But experts say H5N1 has the potential to mutate into a new form that would be easily transmissible between people, with the potential to start a worldwide influenza pandemic. Such a pandemic could cause considerable disease and death, along with grim social and economic consequences.
Indonesia is now at the center of the bird flu crisis. The country reported its first case of H5N1 in poultry in August 2003. The disease is now endemic in chicken populations in several parts of the country; millions of birds have died of the disease or have been culled as a part of H5N1 control efforts.
The first human bird-flu case in Indonesia was recorded in July 2005. Since then Indonesia has detected more than 130 human H5N1 cases and recorded more than 110 fatalities – more than any other country in the world. Indonesia’s children are particularly at risk, as roughly 40 per cent of bird flu victims are under the age of 18.
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