Authorities in Shirak on High Alert As Cases in Neighboring Turkey Reach 18

(AP/Armenpress)–Fears that the bird flu could penetrate the Armenian province of Shirak–which is on the Turkish border–have forced authorities there to remain on high alert and impose extra preventive measures.

Those near the border most at risk of contracting the virus are being vaccinated–including children under seven–and those in orphanages. The target date for administering the vaccines is January 15.

Local veterinarians have examined the meat of local poultry producers–reporting that they are clean of the virus.

Round the clock epidemiological inspections of the Bavra checkpoint have been set up–and all vehicles arriving from Georgia are subject to mandatory disinfection.

The government has also dispatched inspectors to examine the Ararat and Armavir provinces that border Turkey for possible violation on a hunting ban on wild fowl that was enforced on November 1.

In Turkey–as the number of people infected with the deadly H5N1 strain climbed to 18–local officials accused Turkey’s government Thursday of moving too slowly to slaughter fowl when bird flu was still confined to birds.

Mukkades Kubilay–the mayor of Dogubayazit–where three siblings died a week ago–complained that Ankara had sent in only three doctors and that there were not enough workers to destroy poultry.

National health and agriculture authorities denied they did too little–too late–to contain the outbreak–which was discovered in poultry in December.

"Whoever says that we’ve responded too slowly has ill intentions," Health Ministry spokeswoman Mine Tuncel said.

Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker insisted there was no delay in responding to the first reports of infected birds on December 15 and culling of poultry began immediately. "The fight against this disease had been pursued through a clear and transparent policy," he said.

Questions about whether the government acted aggressively enough early in the outbreak emerged as officials tried to contain the disease–which Eker said had been confirmed in 11 of Turkey’s 81 provinces and was suspected in 14 others.

European Union experts also urged nations bordering Turkey to step up checks on any possible spread of the bird flu outbreak and prepare measures to control the disease.

Turkish health authorities–meanwhile–raised the number of people infected with H5N1 from 15 to 18–after it turned up in preliminary tests on two people hospitalized in southeastern Turkey and in a lung of an 11-year-old girl who died last week in the same region. The girl was the sister of two teenagers who became the first fatalities outside East Asia–where the strain has killed over 70 people since 2003.

Although three of the 18 people confirmed with the virus have died–several others are in stable condition or show few signs of illness–suggesting the virus may not be as deadly as had been believed. Previously–more than half of those confirmed to have contracted the disease died.

The World Health Organization reported Thursday that a full genetic analysis of samples from Turkey had shown no meaningful changes to the DNA of the virus amid fears it could mutate into a strain easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic.

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