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Eastern Turkey Sees Third Bird-Flu Death

A Turkish official sprays ducks in Dogubeyazit, the eastern Turkish hometown of the bird-flu victims, 5 January 2006 (epa) 6 January 2006 -- The death today due to bird flu of a third sibling in the same household in eastern Turkey has prompted authorities there and in the European Union to impose new measures to limit human contact with birds at risk of carrying or contracting the disease.

The latest victim, a girl, died early today in a hospital in the eastern Turkish city of Van, where she had been treated for the disease. Her death follows that of her brother and sister, who died of bird flu at the same hospital on 1 and 5 January. The siblings are the first known human fatalities from the deadly disease outside Southeast Asia and China.

The head doctor at Van hospital, Huseyin Avni Sahin, said today that the deaths come amid a number of other suspected cases of bird flu in the area.

"Around 40 people have come to our hospital from 31 December," Sahin said. "They are people with suspected bird flu. Twenty-six of them were hospitalized and provided with medical services. Three of them died. A further 15 are being treated in hospital and three of them are in a critical condition."

The three children who have died lived in a remote rural district in eastern Turkey near the borders of Armenia and Iran.

Official Countermeasures

Turkey's Environment Minister Osman Pepe announced on Thursday that it had reimposed a ban on the hunting of wild birds in the country’s east.

Meanwhile, local authorities have banned all movement of poultry in Van.

It is not known how the Turkish victims of bird flu contracted the disease. Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said on 5 January that they and other members of their family had eaten diseased chickens.

But the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) is conducting tests to determine whether the disease was spread from human to human.

The victims lived about 100 kilometers south of Aralik, a village on the flight path of migratory birds. Aralik was put under quarantine in late December.

Turkey has suffered two outbreaks of the highly contagious and deadly disease among poultry in the past three months.

Amid the deaths, the European Union has reaffirmed its ban on poultry imports from Turkey.

Michael Mann, the European Commission spokesman, described the bloc's position this way in Brussels on 5 January: "The [European] Commission -- together with the [European Center for Disease Prevention and Control] and the World Health Organization -- is closely monitoring the situation, especially from an epidemiological point of view. And obviously, just to reassure everyone, the complete ban on any import from Turkey of live birds and products from poultry was adopted in early October 2005 remains in place."

An 'Animal' Disease?

Bird flu remains mainly an animal disease. However, experts say they fear it could mutate after merging with human strains of flu.

Bird flu has also been detected in Romania, Croatia, Russia, and Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Azerbaijani authorities today said that tests are under way to determine whether bird flu is responsible for the recent deaths of thousands of farm birds in that country's south.

Colin Blakemore, head of the Medical Research Council in Great Britain, said in a recent interview with RFE/RL that the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia must be prepared to battle the spread of bird flu because they lie on bird migration routes.

"This doesn't necessarily mean that transmission to humans or the pandemic will happen in Eastern Europe or Central Asia," Blakemore said. "But it does mean that the subsequent flow of the disease is almost certainly likely to pass from its origins -- perhaps in China or Vietnam or in Thailand or Cambodia -- through Eastern Europe and Central Asia."

The death rate for the deadly bird flu is 58 percent, according to health authorities. The disease has been blamed for more than 70 deaths in China and Southeast Asia.