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Turkey fights bird flu outbreak, new death probed
Updated: 2006-01-16 09:01

Turkey on Monday extended the culling of poultry across the country after a girl died from suspected bird flu and her brother was diagnosed with the deadly H5N1 virus.

Three children have already died from avian flu in Turkey, the first human victims reported outside east Asia since H5N1 reemerged in 2003.

The potentially deadly virus has been found in wild birds and poultry over a third of Turkey, especially in villages reaching from Istanbul at Europe's gates to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

Neighbouring countries have expressed concern the virus might spread to their poultry flocks. Syria on Sunday destroyed birds at a market near its northeastern border with Turkey to try to head off any spread of bird flu.

Mehmet Ozcan, left, is helped by to carry the coffin of his daughter Fatma Ozcan, 12, the fourth suspected death from bird flu, in the hospital of Van, eastern Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006.
Mehmet Ozcan, left, is helped by to carry the coffin of his daughter Fatma Ozcan, 12, the fourth suspected death from bird flu, in the hospital of Van, eastern Turkey, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2006.[AP]
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation experts have said the virus risked becoming a constant problem in Turkey as it is in poultry in parts of Asia. The government has set up a committee to help the $3 billion Turkish poultry sector.

The more it becomes entrenched in poultry flocks, the greater the risk that more humans will become infected. So far, the virus is reported to have infected about 150 people, killing at least 79 of them. None of those cases have involved human-to-human transmission.

Bird flu in Turkey comes as the country recovers from a 2001 financial crisis. The crisis was followed by three years of high growth that has averaged 8 percent and a dramatic decline in inflation that had long plagued the economy.

Investors will watch reaction from Turkish financial markets on Monday after being shut since midday January 9 due to a religious holiday. Analysts said it was too early to say whether the outbreak would hurt the country's booming tourism industry.

The current avian flu outbreak was not likely to affect the Turkey's loan program with the International Monetary Fund at this stage, a fund spokesman said.


Turkish authorities have culled 600,000 wild birds and poultry to try to contain the crisis.

The Health Ministry said initial tests on 12-year-old Fatma Ozcan, who may have died of bird flu on Sunday, were negative but doctors suspect she did in fact contract the disease.

Her brother Muhammet was in critical condition in Van, the province worst hit by the outbreak that has swept Turkey since late December. If Fatma is confirmed to have died from the virus, it would bring the number of human cases in Turkey to 20.

Several tests are needed to establish if a patient has H5N1. One Turkish child who died initially tested negative. Avian flu killed the three children in Dogubayazit, the same town in eastern Van province that the Ozcan family come from.

The United States is sending a team of animal and human health experts to Turkey to assess the avian flu situation there. They will join experts already on hand from the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FAO.

The WHO believes human victims have contracted the virus from close contact with sick chickens, in most cases children playing with birds or helping families kill them for food.

Experts say the H5N1 virus could become more active in the colder months in affected regions, and spread in east Asia as people slaughter chickens for Lunar New Year celebrations.

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