A 35-year-old Indonesian woman who died last week was infected with bird flu, two local tests showed, and a possible new cluster case is being probed after her daughter died showing similar symptoms, officials said on Sunday.

The woman from the West Javan village of Cikelet - which has seen a series of confirmed and suspected cases of bird flu in humans - died on Aug. 17 after being treated for symptoms of the H5N1 virus in the province’s Dr Slamet hospital.

Another official said the dead woman’s 9-year-old daughter died a week before her mother after showing signs of bird flu, although no specimens were taken for testing.

Indonesia overtook Vietnam earlier this month as the country with the largest number of human victims of bird flu.

The latest death takes Indonesia’s confirmed toll from the disease to 45, the highest of any country.

The figures come at a sensitive time, after Indonesia said it would no longer send virus samples abroad to verify its H5N1 analyses, triggering pleas from the WHO that it continue to co-operate with international scientists.

“We still want Indonesia to provide the information so we can monitor the evolution of the virus,” said Dick Thompson, WHO spokesman.

The WHO has confirmed 239 infections and 140 deaths from H5N1 globally, with Indonesia showing the fastest growth in cases in the past year and a particularly high casualty rate.

Jakarta has been criticised for failing to act quickly enough in responding to the virus, with two international audits this year highlighting insufficient action by animal-health officials and poor co-ordination with human-health colleagues.

Other south-east Asian countries including Vietnam have been more effective in recent months in culling, vaccination and public education programmes.

However, Thailand, which implemented strong control plans after outbreaks in 2004, also recently reported two deaths after an eight-month gap. It yesterday created 29 bird flu emergency zones to ease culling payments in at-risk areas.

Some international health experts have suggested that Indonesia’s decision to no longer seek foreign confirmation of its H5N1 cases was triggered by national pride, while stressing that its domestic laboratory analyses had proved reliable.

The new policy could hinder efforts by scientists across the world to provide detailed genotyping of the H5N1 samples found in Indonesia to enable them to track evolutions in the virus and assess any growing risk of a pandemic.

But Indonesia stressed it wanted the genetic data on its viruses to be made public, in contrast to some countries that have preferred to keep the information shared only between a smaller group of collaborating scientists.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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