Turkey holds emergency meeting to discuss poultry industry

The Turkish government on Saturday met with industry representatives to discuss ways of minimizing the economic effects of bird flu as officials pressed ahead with efforts to combat the deadly strain spreading across the country. Poultry sales in the country have dropped by 70 percent since bird flu was reported in humans, according to Kemal Akman, the head of the union of poultry producers. The industry is set to suffer losses amounting to 40 million Turkish lira (US$30 million; Ђ25 million) per month, he said before a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Abdulatif Sener and other ministers.

"If the crisis lasts for one or two months, some of the producers will be forced to close down," Akman told Hurriyet newspaper. "We will listen to the representatives and assess the situation," Sener said at the start of the meeting. "Of course it may not be possible to meet all of their demands."

The World Health Organization, anxious to get a better understanding of the deadly bird flu strain, said it had asked the government for permission to send teams into infected villages to take blood samples, swab throats and interview families.

Guenael Rodier, a communicable diseases expert at the U.N. agency, told The Associated Press on Friday that experts hope to gain more insight into how the deadly H5N1 strain is spreading and whether it is mutating as they race to contain the virus in case it becomes easily transmissible from person to person.

So far, health experts have focused on the 18 people, including three children who died a week ago, who have confirmed H5N1 infection, and on others hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. If approved by Turkey's Health Ministry, the investigation would give WHO experts a chance to take a closer look at the general population in cities and villages where H5N1 has taken hold and determine how the virus is spreading and who appears to be at particular risk. Blood tests would reveal whether people were carrying the virus, even if they had not yet developed symptoms, and whether they showed evidence of antibodies to fight it.

Turkish officials continued slaughtering thousands of birds as a precaution and some 455,000 fowl were destroyed by Friday, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said. His office said bird flu was now confirmed or suspected in birds in 26 of the country's 81 provinces.

The WHO said this week that an analysis of H5N1 samples from two Turkish victims detected a change in one gene in one of two samples tested, but that it was too early to tell whether the mutation was significant. Scientists were examining it carefully because of fears that H5N1 could adapt to a form that would more easily infect people and spread between them, reports the AP. N.U.