Bird Flu Alarm

2006-01-10-Girl Kisses Chickens, Gets Bird Flu

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-01-10-Girl Kisses Chickens, Gets Bird Flu

(AP) Sumeyya Mamuk considered the chickens in her backyard to be beloved pets. The 8-year-old girl fed them, petted them and took care of them. When they started to get sick and die, she hugged them and tenderly kissed them goodbye.

The next morning, her face and eyes were swollen and she had a high fever. Her father took her to a hospital, and five days later she was confirmed to have the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

"The chickens were sick. One had puffed up and she touched it. We told her not to. She loved chickens a lot," her father, Abdulkerim Mamuk, said of the second youngest of his eight children. "She held them in her arms."

Her oldest brother, Sadun, said Sumeyya loved animals and took care of puppies and kittens in Van's Yalim Erez neighborhood.

When her mother saw Sumeyya holding one of the dying chickens, she yelled at her and hit the girl to get her away.

Sumeyya began to cry. She wiped her tears with the hand she'd been using to comfort the dying chicken.

"She wiped her face," said her father, speaking in broken Turkish and wearing a leather jacket and a typical Kurdish headdress in their bright, clean home. "She started to swell. She had a really high fever."

Following a few tense days when her family worried if she would recover, Summeya's condition has improved due to quick treatment with the antiviral drug Tamiflu, said Dr. Huseyin Avni Sahin, chief physician at the Van 100th Year Hospital.

But at least two other children have died of the same virus in Turkey, and as of Tuesday, 15 people had tested positive for infection in preliminary tests. Many are children.

The disease also appears to be spreading.

In parts of the world where the virus has been deadly ? until now only in East Asia ? children like Summeya have been the worst hit.

"It was the same in Asia," said Dr. Guenael Rodier, a scientist with the World Health Organization who has been chasing the virus around the world. "It mainly occurred in family clusters of small size, and mainly in children."

Even if not animal lovers like Sumeyya, children in poor agricultural towns tend to be extremely comfortable with the animals they share their lives with. It has been particularly difficult to convince them that this proximity can now be dangerous.

In Dogubayazit, the Turkish town near the Iranian border where most of the current cases originated, children usually outnumbered workers in trying to round up chickens for culling. Boys and girls led cows and sheep down the main streets. As adult out-of-towners fled from terrifying dogs that snarled from nearly every backyard, little local children giggled.

As the H5N1 bird flu virus spreads, scientists monitoring it for fear it could mutate into a form easily transmissible among humans say education on its dangers is crucial to fighting it. Rodier said his organization was considering implementing a program aimed solely at rural children.

"It's child behavior," he said. "They play with everything."

As for Sumeyya, she is expected to be released from the hospital and join her family and her other pets ? dogs, cats and cows ? in the next few days.

"She's gotten better," Sahin said. "In a few days, she'll be released."

Understanding Avian Influenza