Turkish teenager dies of bird flu

A Turkish teenager whose brother died of bird flu also succumbed to the disease Thursday, a Turkish doctor said. A senior World Health Organization official said tests pointed to a strain scientists fear could trigger a global human epidemic. If confirmed, the brother and sister would be the first human cases of the H5N1 strain in Turkey, signaling that the virus is moving westward from the far eastern corner of Asia.

Guenael Rodier, a special adviser on communicable diseases at WHO's European headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, said samples from the brother had been tested by two laboratories in Turkey and "it turned out to be positive (for H5N1), and because it's so specific it's unlikely we're dealing with false positives. There's no reason to believe it's wrong."

Specimens are now on their way to centers in Britain, where the initial test results will be checked, Rodier told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Fatma Kocyigit, 15, died in a hospital in the eastern city of Van, four days after the death of her 14-year-old brother, Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, the Anatolia new agency reported, citing Ahmet Faik Oner, the doctor who treated the siblings. Their 11-year-old sister, Hulya, was hospitalized with suspected bird flu.

The siblings from the eastern town of Dogubeyazit, close to Iranian border, were admitted to the hospital last week after developing high fevers, coughing and bleeding in their throats.

Eight other people with similar symptoms were being treated at the hospital, said Huseyin Avni Sahin, head physician at the hospital. Most patients, including some neighbors of the siblings, were from Dogubeyazit, where many people raise their own chickens.

Sahin told CNN-Turk television that five other suspected cases were reported elsewhere in the region. He said no patients were hospitalized in Erzurum, denying earlier media reports.

In Dogubeyazit, some 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the town of Aralik, authorities and Turkish troops were culling fowl, private NTV television reported from the scene. Authorities have said the virus was believed to have been brought by birds migrating from the Caucasus regions.

Authorities are closely monitoring H5N1, for fear it could mutate into a form easily passed between humans and spark a pandemic. "We're facing an important problem," Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker told reporters before heading to Van. "We should calmly take all measures required by science and medicine and implement them without panicking."

Eker said he would meet with regional governors to evaluate the situation in the region where there have been new confirmed cases of bird flu in fowl, as well as reports of suspected deaths of fowl. "Right now, there are one or two other places in the region, confirmed by lab tests," Eker said without elaborating. "Others are just tips at the moment, but samples were collected and we're waiting for lab results. We are maintaining our struggle with the disease." The virus has killed 74 people in Asia since the current outbreak started in 2003, the World Health Organization says. Most cases have been traced back to contact with infected birds.

Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1. The Kocyigit children helped raise poultry on a small farm in the eastern town of Dogubeyazit, close to Iranian border, and were in close contact with sick birds.

"We have a pandemic plan ready," Health Minister Recep Akdag said late Wednesday. "There is no need to be too alarmist." Akdag said Turkey had enough stocks of medicine to cope with an outbreak. But he warned people, especially those in close contact with poultry, not to touch sick animals.

Dogubeyazit is some 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the town of Aralik where Turkish authorities last week said some chickens had tested positive for an H5 variant of bird flu. Authorities have said the virus was believed to have been brought by birds migrating from the Caucasus regions, reports the AP. I.L.

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