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Turkey, Indonesia report new bird flu deaths

Turkey said on Monday a fourth person had died of avian flu as authorities slaughtered tens of thousands of birds to try to contain the outbreak.
/ Source: Reuters

Turkey said on Monday a fourth person had died of avian flu as authorities slaughtered tens of thousands of birds to try to contain the outbreak.

Indonesia announced a 13-year-old girl had also died over the weekend of the H5N1 virus, while two of her siblings were ill. Indonesia has previously reported 12 deaths from bird flu.

Human victims had been confined to East Asia until this month, when three infected children from the same family died in eastern Turkey, showing the deadly H5N1 strain had reached the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

“The test results of Fatma Ozcan who died yesterday (Sunday) were found to be positive,” the Health Ministry’s bird flu coordination center said in a statement carried by state-run news agency Anatolian.

The girl, believed to be in her teens, came from the small town of Dogubayazit, home to the three other children who died.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the virus has killed 79 people since 2003 and infected nearly 150, but the WHO has yet to confirm it was to blame for the Indonesian girl’s death or two of the Turkish cases.

Turkey can still prevent bird flu from becoming firmly established among its flocks, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization FAO said on Monday, striking a more optimistic note than it did a few days ago.

“We are still in time to be able to prevent the virus from being endemic in Turkey if the Turkish veterinary services have enough resources,” Juan Lubroth, senior FAO animal health officer, told a news conference in Rome.

Bird flu has been found in wild birds and poultry over a third of Turkey’s territory, hitting villages from Istanbul at Europe’s gates to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

The FAO expressed fears that the virus could take hold in neighboring countries such as Georgia, Iran, Syria and Armenia.

Turkish authorities have culled 931,000 birds over the past two weeks to try to contain the crisis. The Agriculture Ministry had imposed a nationwide ban on the transit of poultry.

Money needed
The virus is already endemic across parts of Asia and scientists fear the H5N1 strain could mutate from a disease that affects mostly birds into one that can pass easily between people, leading to a human pandemic.

The senior U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza will press for $1.5 billion to be pledged at a donor conference opening on Tuesday.

The World Bank aims to raise $1.2 billion at the conference in Beijing, but David Nabarro said he would like to see more.

“To be asking the world to invest $1.5 billion, which is the total I would like to see, to be asking for that sort of money, is really a very small amount in comparison with the total cost to the world of a pandemic,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“We can’t at this stage say that the situation globally is under control. However, I have seen a great increase in the intensity with which countries are tackling avian influenza.”

Rising human toll
Turkish officials said the country now had seen a total of 20 human cases, including the four deaths.

The brother of the girl who died on Sunday was in critical condition in hospital in Van in the east of the country. He has tested positive for H5N1.

An Israeli hospital tested a Palestinian for the bird flu virus on Monday after chickens he tended died and he fell ill.

Turkish financial markets shrugged off the crisis as trading resumed after a long religious holiday.

But there are fears it could hurt the country’s $20 billion tourism industry. Germany’s TUI, Europe’s largest travel group, said bookings to Turkey had been sluggish since last week.

Greece urged its citizens on Monday to avoid unnecessary travel to Turkey, but said it would not yet close its borders.

Iran, which has also culled tens of thousands of birds, has closed its border with Turkey to day trips and has banned imports of live birds and poultry products from Turkey.