- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

Deadly virus moving westward

ANKARA, Turkey — Three persons tested positive for a deadly strain of bird flu in the capital Ankara yesterday, a new stage in the westward sweep of the disease from its East Asian origins toward major economic centers in Turkey and Europe.

The first case of the virus jumping from birds to humans outside China and Southeast Asia occurred last week in rural eastern Turkey, where three children from the same family died after contracting the highly potent H5N1 strain.

As doctors confirmed that two children and a 60-year-old man were being treated in Ankara for the virus, Russia warned its citizens against visiting the country, a popular vacation destination.

Doctors said the infected children, ages 5 and 2, came from Beypazari west of Ankara and had caught the virus after contact with dead wild birds. Their parents tested negative.

Ankara is about 250 miles east of Istanbul, Turkey’s densely populated commercial and tourism hub, and from the continent of Europe. Officials said the culling of birds had begun in the Ankara districts hit by bird flu.

Four children also have tested positive for the H5N1 strain in the city of Van, about 500 miles east of Ankara, bringing the total number of those known to be infected in Turkey to seven.

The state Anatolian news agency said a 5-year-old boy was admitted to a hospital with suspected bird flu in Corum in central Turkey yesterday.

The Agriculture Ministry said bird flu had been detected among poultry in 15 locations, including Istanbul.

The children who died in Van last week almost certainly caught the virus directly from chickens, officials said.

But world health authorities worry that human exposure to the bird flu could lead to the emergence of a mutation allowing easier transmission between humans — and raising the prospect of a global pandemic.

A team of World Health Organization doctors arrived in Van yesterday evening and said the Turkish government was behaving in a transparent way in fighting the disease.

“The Health Ministry has a good understanding that this is both a local problem and also a global problem,” one WHO official said in televised comments. His name was not given.

Iran, which borders the Turkish region worst affected by the outbreak, closed one of its border crossings, turning back many Turks traveling there for a major Muslim holiday, Anatolian said.

Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s chief state epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, as saying: “I earnestly advise Russian citizens to refrain from traveling to Turkey, especially to the eastern province of Agri and the city of Dogubayazit, where the situation is particularly alarming.”

Russians flock to Turkey every year seeking sun and sand. They head mainly for Mediterranean and Aegean resorts many hundreds of miles from Dogubayazit and Agri.

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