Five More Turks Test Positive for Bird Flu

Marifet Kocyigit, flanked by her husband and brother-in-law, kisses her son Hasan Ali, 6, upon his return to the Turkish village of Dogubayazit after tests showed he did not have bird flu. All three siblings of the boy died last week.
Marifet Kocyigit, flanked by her husband and brother-in-law, kisses her son Hasan Ali, 6, upon his return to the Turkish village of Dogubayazit after tests showed he did not have bird flu. All three siblings of the boy died last week. (By Murad Sezer -- Associated Press)

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By Alan Sipress
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 10 -- Five more people in Turkey have tested positive for an often-lethal strain of bird flu, raising the total number of cases to at least 14 since the outbreak was first identified there last week, health officials said Monday. Turkish officials moved quickly to allay public concern about a possible human epidemic.

Investigators from the World Health Organization, who traveled this past weekend to a remote eastern district of Turkey where three siblings died last week, reported that the victims all apparently contracted bird flu from infected poultry.

Initial tests in Turkey have indicated that the virus has not significantly altered compared with samples studied in East Asia, officials said. The viral strain has not been easily transmissible from human to human, but international health specialists said that a more communicable strain could develop as the number of human infections increases. Such a change could lead to a pandemic in which millions of people might be infected.

"At the moment, there is no element in this village indicating human-to-human transmission. It's typically similar to what we've seen so far," said Guenael Rodier, a communicable disease specialist heading the WHO mission to the village of Dogubayazit.

The sudden appearance of human bird flu cases in Turkey has marked a dramatic westward leap for the virus, which had been confined to East Asia since the outbreak began in 2003. At least 142 human cases have been reported in that region in the last two years, with 74 deaths.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said during a visit Monday to Dogubayazit that migratory birds had played a role in spreading the disease to Turkey. He also told reporters that all 14 human cases were the result of contact with poultry and other birds.

The five latest cases in Turkey were identified in four towns in the country's east, center and northern Black Sea coast, demonstrating the extent to which the virus has now spread across much of Turkey, according to Turan Buzgan, a senior Health Ministry official. This report came one day after officials disclosed that two young brothers and an adult from a town near the capital, Ankara, had tested positive.

So far, however, testing at a British laboratory associated with WHO has confirmed only four of the cases in Turkey, including a teenage brother and sister who died in Dogubayazit, which is located in the eastern Van region. Tests on a third sibling who also died have remained inconclusive, although health experts said they assume the cause of death was the same. A fourth sibling, the family's only remaining child, was released from the hospital Monday after tests showed he did not have the virus.

WHO testing has also confirmed bird flu in two other young children now hospitalized in Van. International health officials said they expected the agency would soon confirm the other 10 cases already announced by Turkish authorities.

Reacting to widespread reports about the bird flu cases, Turks have crowded into hospitals complaining of influenza symptoms. Officials said more than 60 people who had close contact with birds are now hospitalized across the country.

Special correspondent Yesim Borg in Istanbul contributed to this report.


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