(Recasts with six family members cleared)
JAKARTA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Indonesia has cleared six members of a family hospitalised with bird flu symptoms, a health official said on Saturday, in a case that has raised concerns over potential human-to-human spread of the disease.
It also comes as the World Health Organisation investigates a suspected case of limited human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 bird flu virus in Pakistan.
The six Indonesians from a small village in Banten province, just hours from the capital Jakarta, had been suffering from high fever after more than a dozen sick ducks died in their backyard.
Two sets of laboratory tests showed the six admitted to a hospital in Jakarta on Friday did not have the H5N1 virus, said Nyoman Kandun, director-general of communicable disease control at Indonesia’s health ministry.
"Clearly, it’s not a cluster. We do not even have a confirmed bird flu case here," Kandun said by telephone.
Authorities treat cases where family members living together show symptoms of bird flu with particular care since it could point to human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Although bird flu remains mostly an animal disease, experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, triggering a global pandemic in which millions could die.
Indonesia has had the highest number of human infections globally with 115 confirmed human cases of bird flu, out of which 93 have been fatal.
The largest known cluster of human bird flu cases worldwide occurred in May 2006 in the Karo district of Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, where as many as 7 people in an extended family died.
Pakistan said last week 8 people had been infected since late October, including a veterinarian involved in culling whose two brothers died. A WHO team has investigated the outbreak and international laboratory results on samples taken are expected at the weekend.
The WHO suspects there has been only limited human-to-human transmission in Pakistan, but international test results are pending, David Heymann, WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment, said on Friday.
He said no new suspected human bird flu cases had emerged in Pakistan since Dec. 6, signalling there had been no further spread.
Millions of people in Indonesia, a complex archipelago comprising thousands of islands and hundreds of languages, live in close proximity to poultry, keeping backward fowl for eggs and meat to supplement their income.
Since H5N1 resurfaced in Asia in late 2003, the virus has killed 209 people in 11 countries, according to the WHO. (Reporting by Adhityani Arga, editing by Ed Davies and David Fogarty)