Pier Paolo  /  AP
Geese gather in the muddy roads of the eastern Turkish village of Bardakci, near the city of Van, on Jan. 18.
updated 1/19/2006 11:18:00 AM ET 2006-01-19T16:18:00

The World Health Organization said Thursday it expected Turkey to see fewer human cases of bird flu as the government destroys poultry and warns people to avoid contact with sick fowl.

At least 21 people have been infected with the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain in Turkey so far this year, and four children have died.

WHO spokeswoman Cristiana Salvi praised Turkey’s response to the outbreak, though she cautioned it was too early to say if the crisis had passed.

“The situation is getting better,” she said. “A lot of effort is being put into controlling the outbreak in animals ... but it takes time.”

Turkey has destroyed about 1 million birds in an attempt to limit contact with humans in this largely rural country, where most villagers raise chickens, turkeys and geese. The virus has thus far only jumped from poultry to people, killing at least 79 people in east Asia and Turkey since 2003.

But experts fear the strain could mutate into a form spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions.

Most of the cases in Turkey involved children and teenagers, and some of the victims were showing improvement. A 4-year-old boy has recovered and been discharged from a hospital in the southeastern province Sanliurfa, Gov. Yusuf Yavascan said Thursday.

Another boy, 5, was also expected to recover after being in critical condition for two days, said his doctor in the eastern city of Van. The boy’s 12-year-old sister died of the disease Sunday.

The crisis has hit Turkey’s poultry industry hard, with authorities saying sales have plunged by 70 percent. The $3 billion industry employs 100,000 people.

Producers have warned that the industry could lose $30 million a month if the crisis continues. They are demanding tax incentives, low-interest credits and government compensation to destroy millions of older chickens that no longer produce eggs at professional poultry farms.

Some producers have already begun destroying chicks in their hatchery to avoid bankruptcy. Others were worried about mounting egg stocks.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged people not to stop eating chicken and eggs from professional poultry farms, saying the disease has been confined to birds raised in the open in people’s gardens.

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