- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NEW YORK — The United Nations yesterday sought to calm fears about the deadly avian flu virus as signs of near-panic spread through Turkey and its neighbors.

At least 15 persons in Turkey have been stricken with the respiratory virus, although none of the cases appears to be the result of a human-to-human transmission.

Agriculture teams and farmers culled sick birds and infected flocks yesterday in 30 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.

World Health Organization officials praised Ankara’s response to the crisis, but officials insisted that the counterinfluenza measures must be maintained.

In Russia, scientists warned against taking Turkish vacations and the government advocated the shooting of migrating birds.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which has taken an early lead in the detection and prevention of the H5N1 virus, yesterday called on Turkey’s neighbors to increase their surveillance of flocks.

“The virus may be spreading despite the control measures already taken,” said Juan Lubroth, the senior FAO animal health officer.

“Far more human and animal exposure to the virus will occur if strict containment does not isolate all known and unknown locations where the bird-flu virus is currently present,” he said.

Dr. David Nabarro, the coordinator of the U.N. response to the avian flu, stressed that “there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the Turkey outbreak.”

He said each case appeared to be traceable to avian contact.

Early surveillance and containment efforts would take at least $1.4 billion, a figure that is sure to soar if the flu becomes a pandemic, he said.

Epidemiologists are puzzled that the virus that has flashed through Turkey does not appear to be as deadly as the strain that killed roughly half of the 139 persons infected in China and Southeast Asia.

Of the 15 known Turkish infections, only the deaths of three siblings have been traced to the virus.

Dr. Nabarro said more people might have been infected in Asia than were reported, yielding a lower rate of fatality, or the Turkish government’s rapid response and use of Tamiflu, a powerful antiviral, might have been the reason.

Another prospect, he said, is that the Turkish strain of H5N1 might be less deadly than its Asian predecessor.

Scientists have been watching for mutations as the virus jumps to humans: If it grows less virulent, it might be easier to treat with existing or adapted medications or it might be adapting for maximum transmission by not killing its host.

The Chinese government, along with the European Union and the World Bank, will sponsor a two-day pledging conference next week to raise roughly $1.4 billion to identify, contain and combat the virus.

“We view this as a beginning,” Dr. Nabarro said.

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