Turkey reports bird flu in capital
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ANKARA (CNN) -- Preliminary tests show five new cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu among people in Turkey, Turkish officials said Sunday.
Three reported cases were in the capital, Ankara, and two were in the eastern city of Van.
Cases in Van had been reported previously. The new cases in Ankara suggested the illness could be spreading.
The figures announced by Turkish health officials go beyond those provided by the World Health Organization.
The WHO said Saturday that two new cases of H5N1 avian influenza virus have been confirmed in hospitalized children, aged five and eight years, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to four.
There are also numerous suspected cases in the country.
The human deaths from bird flu in Turkey are the first outside China and Southeast Asia.
The two hospitalized children who died from the illness were in Van. Their 12-year-old sister died Friday, presumably of the same virus. A fourth child in the family, a 6-year-old boy, was also hospitalized. His condition was improving and he might be released Monday, doctors said.
The WHO's top official for the disease told CNN Saturday that it is investigating the suspected cases. But Dr. David Nabarro cautioned that the reports do not portend a pandemic, since the fatalities have occurred among people known to have been in contact with birds.
"There's a serious need for people to steer clear of diseased birds," he said, noting that "all evidence indicates" those infected had been in close contact with diseased birds.
"Contact between people and poultry has likely increased during the present cold weather, when the custom among many rural households is to bring poultry into their homes," WHO said Saturday. "Tests have shown that the virus can survive in bird feces for at least 35 days at low temperatures."
A WHO spokesman, Dr. Guenael Rodier, urged Turks Sunday in Van to follow standard recommendations for avoiding the illness -- i.e., "primarily to avoid contact with live birds or dead birds in the affected area."
He said the country's health officials -- at their highest level -- were "very much engaged" in the issue and praised the country's minister of health and minister of agriculture for their cooperation.
"The problem is local, but it's also global," Rodier said, noting that public health officials are concerned that the virus -- which was first identified in 1997 in Hong Kong -- may mutate so that it gains the ability to spread easily from person to person. That could trigger a pandemic with disastrous consequences.
Rodier said there was no reason to impose restrictions on travel to Turkey.
But Russia's chief epidemiologist has urged his countrymen not to travel to Turkey -- a popular vacation destination for Russians -- because of the bird flu outbreak, the Interfax news agency reported Sunday.
Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1.
Despite the deaths, workers in the village of Dogubayazit, where the siblings lived, still had trouble Sunday persuading some villagers to hand over their fowl for destruction, The Associated Press reported.
Health officials believe the best way to fight the spread of bird flu is the wholesale destruction of poultry in the affected area.
But across the impoverished eastern parts of the country, sometimes chickens are a family's most valuable possession.
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