Turkey kills hundreds of thousands of birds fighting H5N1 virus spread

Turkey continues to exterminate birds against the background of the ongoing bird flu epidemic. Nineteen people have tested positive in preliminary Turkish screenings for H5N1 flu, and three of them have died. Authorities were trying to determine whether a 12-year-old girl who died Sunday was the outbreak's latest victim.

Turkey has been destroying fowl in areas where the disease was confirmed or suspected in birds in an attempt to limit contact between fowl and people. As the Cabinet met to discuss further measures to combat the outbreak, authorities on Monday banned the transport of all birds and hoofed animals, except race horses, as a precaution.

Officials have said all the people with confirmed H5N1 infection appear to have contracted the virus by touching or playing with birds. There was no evidence of person-to-person infection. Five-year-old Muhammet Ozcan, hospitalized in the eastern city of Van with a fever and a light lung infection, tested positive for the virulent H5N1 virus on Sunday, increasing the number of infected people in Turkey to 19, Turkish authorities said. The World Health Organization has not yet confirmed that case.

The boy was listed in stable condition Monday and was recovering, the Anatolia news ageny reported, quoting his doctors.

His 12-year-old sister Fatma - who initially was believed to have died of the disease - tested negative in initial tests. Authorities were carrying further tests to determine whether she also was infected. If confirmed, her death would be the fourth fatality in Turkey.

A new viral specimen taken from the girl's lungs was being analyzed at a laboratory in Ankara, Hurrem Bodur, an infectious disease expert at Ankara University, told private NTV television.

"We're waiting today, and hopefully this morning we'll get confirmation that she is H5 positive," Guenael Rodier, a WHO expert on communicable diseases, said Monday. "We want to see the laboratory (results) before we move on. But she's likely to be a case, unfortunately."

At least 77 others in east and south Asia have died since the virus first surfaced there in 2003, the WHO says.

Authorities quickly buried Fatma on Sunday evening, wrapping her in a special body bag to contain any virus, following a quick prayer at a snow-covered cemetery under torch light. The girl was from the town of Dogubayazit - the same town where three siblings died of bird flu about 10 days ago.

At least two of the H5N1 patients were discharged from hospitals. But one of them, Gulsen Yesilirmak, was readmitted on Monday, two days after her release from a hospital in the central Anatolian city of Sivas, private NTV television reported. It was not clear why her condition deteriorated.

The WHO was examining the cases closely as it tracks how the virus may be changing.

Health experts are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form that would spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions.

Turkish authorities on Monday continued destroying tens of thousands of birds nationwide as a precaution. At least 764,000 domestic birds have been killed, the government's bird flu crisis center said Monday. Bird flu in birds is now confirmed or suspected in 29 of Turkey's 81 provinces.

Authorities were also trying to save some of the fowl. On Sunday, people living in remote villages in central Turkey began to disinfect their chicken coops after the Agriculture Ministry distributed special kits.

"We are disinfecting the poultry houses in the village to prevent the spread of the deadly bird flu virus with the equipment we received from the Agriculture Ministry, and we hope it works," said Adil Ova, the chief official in the village of Ishan, the AP reports.