Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-12-More Turks have bird flu, UN warns on pandemic risk

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-12-More Turks have bird flu, UN warns on pandemic risk

By Paul de Bendern and Gareth Jones
Thu Jan 12, 9:01 AM ET


ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey reported on Thursday two new cases of people infected with deadly bird flu as a top World Health Organization (WHO) official warned that the threat of a pandemic was growing daily.

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The H5N1 virus has been found in wild birds and poultry across large parts of Turkey, particularly in poor villages stretching from Istanbul at the gates of Europe to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders. It has killed at least two children.

The Health Ministry said tests showed that the virus was in the lungs of a third Turkish child who died last week, the sister of the two dead teenagers confirmed as bird flu victims.

Two more victims of H5N1 were confirmed by the ministry, which would bring the total number of humans infected in Turkey to 18. Turkey has previously reported 15 infected people.

Indonesia said on Thursday a 29-year-old woman who had bird flu, according to a local test result, had died.

Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said Asia remained the epicentre of the threat to global health but that a pandemic was not inevitable if countries and health bodies responded quickly.

"As the new cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus in Turkey show, the situation is worsening with each passing month and the threat of an influenza pandemic is continuing to grow every day," he told a two-day meeting of Asian countries and international organisations on bird flu in Tokyo.

Experts say the H5N1 virus could become more active in the colder months in affected regions, and spread in east Asia as people slaughter chickens for Lunar New Year celebrations.

The more it becomes entrenched in poultry flocks, the greater the risk that more humans will become infected. So far, the virus is reported to have infected about 150 people, killing at least 78 in six countries.

While it remains essentially a disease in birds, scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily between humans, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

While there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in Turkey, the large and rapid rise in the number of cases has worried experts.

TURKISH CASES STUDIED

Health experts are studying the outbreak in Turkey for clues as to how to combat the virus. The mortality rate in Turkey is lower than in east Asia where around one in every two victims has died.

"The pace of fatalities appears to have fallen off quickly. But it is as yet unclear whether this is because the virus has modified or Turkey's approach has been successful," said David Nabarro, the U.N.'s senior coordinator for avian influenza.

The health ministry said the two new human cases of bird flu -- both in southeastern Turkey -- were in stable condition. Hundreds of people have been tested, most turning out negative.

The WHO says countries must do more to prepare for a pandemic and Nabarro said it would cost donors about $1.4 billion to finance the next phase of the global campaign against the virus. This included gearing up veterinary services and preparing expert teams for quick deployment to outbreaks.

He was confident delegates to a bird flu conference in Beijing next week would pledge the needed amount.

FIGHTING THE VIRUS

The Turkish authorities have killed more than 350,000 birds in the past two weeks. A 3-km (2-mile) quarantine zone has been set up around infected areas, and information broadcast via television commercials and vans fitted with loudspeakers.

European countries are raising their guard against the further spread of the virus.

The Dutch government wants to vaccinate its huge poultry population against bird flu, the farm ministry said on Thursday.

Bird flu experts recommend preventive vaccination to be considered seriously in the small and densely populated Netherlands which has around 90 million poultry.

Neil Parish, a member of the European Parliament who steered through a new EU directive on bird flu preparedness last year, said the threat of the disease in Europe will be exacerbated in the spring when migratory birds travel north.

"All attention is currently on the outbreaks in Turkey but measures now being taken in Ankara will hopefully contain it there. The real threat will come from migratory birds carrying the disease and they will be heading back to Europe shortly for the summer," he said in a statement.

Understanding Avian Influenza