Turkey slaughtered tens of thousands of birds on Monday as it battled to stamp out avian flu and Indonesia said a 13-year-old girl had died of the virus at the weekend.
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 virus had reached the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Turkey can still prevent bird flu from becoming firmly established among its flocks, the United Nations’ 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.
The World Bank aims to raise $1.2 billion to fight bird flu, Vice President Jim Adams said on Monday, the eve of a global donor conference in Beijing tasked with securing the resources needed to combat the deadly virus.
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.
Already it has killed 79 people since 2003 and infected nearly 150, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures.
“There is more virus all over the globe, and there is a higher chance that at a certain moment the virus will start changing itself into something easily transmittable between humans,” said Henk Bekedam, WHO’s chief China representative.
Rising human toll
Turkish authorities have culled 764,000 poultry over the past two weeks to try to contain the crisis. The Agriculture Ministry had imposed a nationwide ban on the transit of poultry.
The toll of human victims is creeping higher, with new cases reported on a daily basis.
Indonesia said local tests showed a 13-year-old girl died of bird flu at the weekend while two of her siblings have tested positive for the H5N1 virus.
Turkey said on Monday a teenage girl who died on Sunday had tested postive for bird flu, state-run Anatolian news agency reported.
The Health Ministry said the latest test brought the total of people who tested positive in Turkey to 20. It had previously said initial tests on the girl, Fatma Ozcan, had been negative although doctors suspected she had contracted the disease.
Her brother Muhammet, who tested positive for H5N1, was in critical condition in Van, the province worst hit by the outbreak that has swept Turkey in recent weeks. If Fatma is confirmed to have died from the virus, it would bring the number of human cases in Turkey to 20.
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.
“So long as it (bird flu) does not advance, it is wrong to say there will be a negative impact on tourism,” Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters.
Greece urged its citizens on Monday to avoid unnecessary travel to Turkey, but said it would not yet close its borders. Some of the affected areas are along the western Turkish coast, only a few nautical miles off the Greek isles.
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.