Bird flu outbreaks spread across Asia

Indonesia is preparing more hospitals to take victims of a new bird flu outbreak, as one facility reports that its small isolation ward has been filled. At least one family cluster has been affected as officials report the deaths of at least four people in that country in just the past week. Japan, meanwhile, is reporting that it has confirmed the presence of the lethal H5N1 version of bird flu in poultry, its first outbreak in three years. And reports of bird flu in poultry in Vietnam and Thailand have also surfaced. In many ways, the current spate of new cases fits into a well-established winter pattern in the Northern Hemisphere. As cold weather spreads, more victims surface, renewing fears that the virus could mutate into a new form that could trigger a human pandemic. Health officials, though, say that this year, government agencies appear to be responding much more quickly, in order to contain any outbreaks that occur. The fear of a pandemic has also prompted major efforts to develop new vaccines to protect populations. But that effort is still in a very early stage.

- here's the report on avian flu from ENS