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January 06, 2006

Third sibling dies of suspected bird flu strain in Turkey; children played with dead chickensThe Associated Press

VAN, Turkey (AP) An 11-year-old girl died Friday of suspected bird flu in eastern Turkey days after her brother and sister also succumbed. Their doctor said they probably contracted the illness by playing with dead chickens.

A fourth sibling from the same family was also seriously ill and breathing with the help of respirators, said Huseyin Avni Sahin, head physician at the hospital in the eastern city of Van where the children were treated.

A hospital official said up to 30 other people were being treated for possible bird flu symptoms early Friday, as Turkey sent medicines to the affected area in an effort to mobilize against a virus that appeared to be moving westward from eastern Asia.

Preliminary tests in Turkey indicated two of the siblings died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. If confirmed by further testing, it would be the first human deaths from the strain outside eastern Asian areas where more than 70 people have died. Samples were being sent to a British lab for confirmation.

Authorities are closely monitoring H5N1, for fear it could mutate into a form easily passed between humans and spark a pandemic.

Hulya Kocyigit, 11, died in a hospital in Van a day after her 15-year-old sister, Fatma Kocyigit, succumbed to the disease, Sahin said. Their brother Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, 14, died on Sunday.

The doctor said the youngsters most likely contracted the virus while playing with the heads of dead chickens infected with the disease, which explains why the parents were not affected. The Turkish newspaper Sabah said the children had tossed the chicken heads like balls inside their house in Dogubayazit, near the Iranian border.

Another 25-30 people had come in to the hospital for blood tests, received medical care and left, a hospital official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. Other doctors in contact with the patients were not reachable early Friday morning.

Officials tried to calm the rising fears.

``We don't expect the disease to contaminate a large number of people,'' Health Minister Recep Akdag said. ``We don't expect a pandemic or anything like that in Turkey, but there is a real risk for people who are in close contact with fowl.''

Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker traveled to Van to discuss the situation with local officials Thursday.

``We're facing an important problem,'' Eker told reporters. ``We should calmly take all measures required by science and medicine and implement them without panicking.''

Eker said the problem of containing bird flu in eastern Turkey is aggravated by the fact that almost every house has fowl and they allow them to go inside their homes at night when temperatures drop.

Most of those who have died from the disease so far were farm workers who came in close contact with fowl from Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia according to the World Health Organization.

Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1.

Authorities have said the virus was believed to have been brought by birds migrating from Caucasus regions.

Associated Press reporters Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Posted by dymaxion at January 6, 2006 11:59 AM

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