Bird Flu Spreads Fear across Turkey

–15 people confirmed with H5N1 virus; 70 hospitalized with symptoms

VAN (AP/Reuters)–Preliminary tests Tuesday showed another person in Turkey has tested positive for a deadly strain of bird flu–raising the number in the country to 15–a Health Ministry official said.

The number of people hospitalized with symptoms also climbed to about 70–officials said.

The 15th positive test for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu–a person hospitalized in the central Anatolian city of Sivas–was confirmed by a Health Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Three people died last week–but only two of those cases were confirmed to have tested positive.

None of the people now hospitalized who have tested positive for the deadly bird flu virus in Turkey are in critical condition–the country’s Health Ministry said.

The United Nations’ health agency warned that each new positive test increased the virus’ chances for mutating into a form that could pass from human to human and spark a pandemic.

"The more humans infected with the avian virus–the more chance it has to adapt," said Guenael Rodier–a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official for communicable diseases.

The Turkish government stepped up an awareness campaign to combat the bird flu outbreak–with imams warning about the danger through minaret loudspeakers and authorities distributing leaflets urging people not to contact fowl.

UN and Turkish authorities urged citizens to follow health guidelines for working with poultry–and to prevent children from coming into contact with dead birds.

Authorities distributed leaflets in eastern parts of the country–which has been most affected by the outbreak–cautioning people not to touch the fowl. TV broadcasts urged people to wash their hands after contacting poultry.

Meanwhile–more than a dozen people were admitted to hospitals across Turkey with flu-like symptoms Tuesday–including four in the western town of Aydin–where the virus in fowl was detected a day earlier and in the Aegean resort town of Kusadasi–just across from the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean Sea. Authorities also detected bird flu in dead birds near the Aegean port of Izmir–Turkey’s third-largest city–CNN-Turk reported.

"We don’t see new cases in the east–the focus is shifting to central Turkey," said the country’s Health Ministry.

Turkish authorities have killed some 110,000 fowl–including around 3,000 in Istanbul–to combat the outbreak–reports said Tuesday. Authorities also have banned the sale of fowl in open markets and even the sale of eggs in some areas in hopes of containing the virus.

Health officials are watching the disease’s spread and development–while WHO labs are testing for genetic changes in the virus that could allow it to be transmitted between humans and spark a pandemic.

The outbreaks have been occurring in Turkey because of the close interaction here between humans and animals–which must be minimized–Rodier said. "The front line between children and animals–particularly backyard poultry–is too large," he said.

Of the WHO’s four confirmed cases–all involved children who were in close contact with fowl–suggesting they were likely infected directly by the birds.

A doctor in Van said the children likely had been infected while playing with the heads of dead chickens. Several other children told similar stories.

Health Minister Recep Akdag said he was confident Turkey would overcome the outbreak–but warned there would continue to be a risk for years because the country lies on a major path for migratory birds.

Akdag urged people to abandon raising poultry in backyards. "If as a community we take the necessary measures and educate (people)–we can in a short period of time combat this," he said.

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