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Turkey steps up bird flu fight, Indonesian girl dies
Updated: 2006-01-16 21:28

Turkey stepped up the culling of poultry across the country on Monday as it battles to stamp out bird flu and Indonesia said a 13-year-old girl died of the virus at the weekend.

Live chickens hang from hooks at a slaughterhouse in Andenne, southern Belgium, October 27, 2005. [Reuters]
Human victims had been confined to east Asia until this month, when three infected children from the same family died in eastern Turkey, showing the virus had reached the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Bird flu has been found in wild birds and poultry over a third of Turkey's territory, hitting villages from Istanbul at Europe's gates to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

Turkey still has a chance of preventing bird flu from becoming a permanent feature among its poultry, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Monday, striking a more optimistic note than it did a few days ago.

"We are still in time to be able to prevent the virus from being endemic in Turkey if the Turkish veterinary services have enough resources, " Juan Lubroth, senior FAO animal health officer, told a news conference in Rome.

The FAO expressed fears that the virus could take hold in neighboring countries such as Georgia, Iran, Syria and Armenia.

The World Bank aims to raise $1.2 billion to fight bird flu, Vice President Jim Adams said on Monday, the eve of a global donor conference in Beijing tasked with securing the resources needed to combat the deadly virus.

The virus is already endemic across parts of Asia and scientists fear the H5N1 strain could mutate from a disease that affects mostly birds into one that can pass easily between people, leading to a human pandemic.

Already it has killed 79 people since 2003 and infected nearly 150, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

"There is more virus all over the globe, and there is a higher chance that at a certain moment the virus will start changing itself into something easily transmittable between humans," said Henk Bekedam, the WHO's chief representative in China.


The toll of human victims is creeping higher, with new cases reported on a daily basis.

Indonesia said local tests showed a 13-year-old girl died of bird flu at the weekend while two of her siblings have tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

"We found three positive bird flu cases in one family coming from Indramayu, West Java," said Hariadi Wibisono, the ministry's director of control of animal-borne diseases.

He said this was Indonesia's fifth cluster of bird flu cases, where people living in close proximity had fallen ill. There was no evidence of human-to-human transmission and dead chickens had been found in the neighborhood, he added.

Turkey's Health Ministry said initial tests on teenager Fatma Ozcan, who may have died of bird flu on Sunday, were negative but doctors suspect she did 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.

Turkish financial markets shrugged off the crisis as trading resumed after a long religious holiday.

"...the early panic surrounding... 'bird flu' seems to have subsided," bank Credit Suisse said in a research note.


Turkish authorities have culled 764,000 poultry over the past two weeks to try to contain the crisis. Anatolian state news agency said the Agriculture Ministry had imposed a nationwide ban on the transit of poultry.

neighboring Syria on Sunday destroyed birds at a market near its northeastern border with Turkey to try to head off any spread of bird flu.

Iran, which has also culled tens of thousands of birds, has closed its border with Turkey to day trips and has banned imports of live birds and poultry products from Turkey.

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