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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 11:45 GMT
Turkey battles to stem bird flu
A health worker collects a duck for culling in western Turkey
The deaths in Turkey are the first outside South-East Asia
Turkey is stepping up measures to control an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, after the virus killed at least two people and infected 15.

Public health information is being broadcast on television and a telephone helpline has been set up.

The health ministry is distributing leaflets in the eastern region where the outbreak began.

More than 100,000 birds in the region have been culled, but some locals have refused to hand over their poultry.

"I haven't informed the authorities about my birds, why should I?" demanded one woman in Dogubeyazit, at the centre of the outbreak.

"My turkeys are not sick, I've kept them indoors," she told the BBC.

The scale of the problem has also presented difficulties. On Monday, health teams had yet to reach nearly 100 villages in the area.

QUICK GUIDE

The virus is present in the east, north and centre of the country.

The head of the Turkey mission of the World Health Organization (WHO), Guenael Rodier, said it was clear that the strain was well-established in the region.

Health experts say almost all of the reported cases involved children who had documented contact with dead or diseased poultry, and there is no sign the virus is passing from human to human.

However, correspondents say fear is spreading rapidly across the country.

And "the more humans infected with the avian virus, the more chance [the virus] has to adapt", Mr Rodier said.

'Necessary measures'

The deputy director of the Turkish health ministry, Fehmi Aydin, says a public awareness campaign is under way across the country.

People are being told to eat only healthy chickens, and to make sure the meat is properly cooked through.

CONFIRMED TURKISH H5N1 CASES
Van: 7, including 2 deaths. A third death treated as "probable case"
Ankara: 3
Kastamonu: 2
Corum: 1
Samsun: 1

"We have informed all the provinces in the whole country and we gave Tamiflu [anti-viral drug] for the 81 provinces. The whole country, they have this anti-viral drug, and we are implementing our plan," Mr Aydin said.

Turkey has urged its citizens to stop raising poultry in their back yards, and the government is said to be considering a ban.

"If as a community we take the necessary measures and educate [people], we can in a short period of time combat this," Health Minister Recep Akdag said.

The latest case to be confirmed by the Turkish health authorities is a 37-year-old woman said to have been in close contact with diseased chickens.

Some reports said she was from central Sivas province.

The other most recent cases to be reported are in the Black Sea provinces of Kastamonu, Corum and Samsun, and the eastern province of Van.

In the western city of Istanbul, 12 people thought to have been infected have tested negative, reports say.

The virus has also been detected in the popular Aegean resort town of Kusadasi.

HAVE YOUR SAY
To prevent a huge outbreak in the UK we should start culling our poultry. Why wait?
Eric, Manchester, UK

The two siblings confirmed to have died of bird flu were from the eastern town of Dogubeyazit, in the province of Van.

Tests are still being carried out on their 11-year-old sister, who also died, to see if she was also infected with H5N1.

Their brother, the sole surviving sibling of the family, was released from hospital on Monday. Tests indicated six-year-old Ali Hasan Kocyigit did not have the virus.

In total, more than 45 cases are said to be under investigation.

The two deaths in Van last week were the first outside South-East Asia, where about 70 people have been killed by the virus in the past two years.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Gavin Hewitt reports from the scene of the worst outbreak



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