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Turkey Battles Bird Flu Amid New Deaths In China

Turkish agriculture ministry employees collect poultry for destruction 11 January 2006, in Agri, eastern Turkish. The lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu that killed two teenagers in Turkey could become firmly entrenched there and pose a danger to countries nearby, United Nations animal health experts said Wednesday. AFP photo by Mustafa Ozer.

Ankara (AFP) Jan 11, 2006
Turkey insisted Wednesday it had a deadly bird flu outbreak under control after 15 confirmed cases of the virus in humans, as China revealed two more deaths, underlining the spread of the disease.

While Turkey's jittery neighbours rushed to bolster their defences against contamination, Health Minister Recep Akdag said authorities were on track with their response to an outbreak that has killed two children in the east of the country.

"The situation is under control with regards to following up and treating human cases," he told a press conference, following sharply critical newspaper headlines castigating the government for its alleged slow response.

"We are evaluating and following suspected cases, and rapidly carrying out tests."

Mark Danzon, regional director for Europe for the World Health Organisation (WHO), said Ankara's handling of the crisis had been "appropriate."

"The reaction in the country has been appropriate and the management of the health crisis is at the level it should be," he told the same news conference.

On Tuesday, officials in Turkey confirmed a 15th case of human infection of the H5N1 virus, the deadliest strain of bird flu.

It brought to 13 the number of people now under treatment after the deaths last week of the two children -- the first human fatalities outside Southeast Asia and China where more than 70 have died since 2003.

In China, WHO officials said Wednesday that two more people had died there from the disease last month, a 10-year-old girl in the southern Guangxi region and a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Jiangxi.

Five people have now died out of eight human infections in China, and there are grave fears for a six-year-old boy in the central province of Hunan.

The latest events in China, which has the world's biggest poultry industry, triggered further alarm bells a day after the government warned the crisis had not yet peaked and human-to-human transmission remained possible.

Humans can get bird flu from contact with infected animals, but scientists fear millions of people could die if the virus mutates with human strains of flu and becomes highly contagious.

The latest person identified as an H5N1 carrier is a mother-of-two from the east-central city of Sivas, who was reported to be in a stable condition.

Scores of people have rushed to hospitals across the country, fearing they may also have contracted the virus. The CNN-Turk news channel said more than 120 people were waiting to be tested.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said none of the infected, who are hospitalized in three different provinces, were in danger.

"The situation is fully under control," he said late Tuesday.

But the Turkish press Wednesday accused the government of mishandling the crisis.

"Deadly delay," blared the front page of the mass-circulation daily Sabah, accusing officials of failing to rapidly identify the outbreak in the remote eastern town of Dogubeyazit where bird flu was first reported in December.

"You said you had everything under control," said the popular daily Vatan, referring to new outbreaks of bird flu in fowl reported Tuesday in the west, east and southeast, raising the number of affected provinces to more than 20.

In the absence of a centralized information system, there is confusion over the exact number of provinces where the disease has been reported.

The agriculture ministry reports confirmed cases in 15 out of Turkey's 81 provinces, but statements by provincial governors contradict this figure.

An AFP count Wednesday put the number at 23. Other media reports go as high as 27.

Bulgaria and Greece, neighbours of Turkey, said Tuesday they were on full alert against a possible spread, while Russia, one of Turkey's largest trading partners, beefed up border checks and President Vladimir Putin ordered special public health measures.

The Turkish agriculture ministry said 306,000 birds had been culled in 15 provinces, including those of Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Less Threatening Bird Flu
Washington (UPI) Jan 11, 2006
Talk about good news and bad news: While more cases of avian flu are identified in both birds and humans in Turkey, the first possible signs emerged that the virus itself might not be as lethal as feared.

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