- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

DOGUBAYAZIT, Turkey — An 11-year-old girl died yesterday of suspected bird flu in eastern Turkey — days after her brother and sister succumbed to the disease — and their doctor said they probably contracted the illness by playing with dead chickens.

Turkey’s Health Ministry said a British laboratory confirmed that the girl’s two siblings were the first human deaths from the H5N1 strain of bird flu outside East Asia, where more than 70 people have died from it since 2003.

The World Health Organization was investigating whether the cases resulted from transmission between people, which could signal the start of a human pandemic, while frightened Turks rushed to pharmacies in search of medicine as well as simple gloves and masks.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said people urgently needed to be educated about keeping birds, and that during Friday prayers, imams would give instructions on protecting themselves.

British labs confirmed that Fatma Kocyigit, 15, and her 14-year-old brother, Mehmet Ali, tested positive for H5N1, said Health Ministry Undersecretary Necdet Unuvar. Their 11-year-old sister, Hulya, died early yesterday, but it has not been confirmed if she also had the strain.

The condition of a fourth sibling was improving. The four were hospitalized in the eastern city of Van after developing high fevers, coughing and bleeding in their throats.

Hulya was buried beside her brother and sister, amid the wails of their mother, Marifet Kocyigit. An imam, wearing a surgical mask, read prayers as men, also in masks, took her white shroud-covered body out of the coffin and lowered it into the grave.

The doctor said the youngsters most likely contracted the virus while playing with the heads of dead chickens infected with the disease. The children had reportedly tossed the chicken heads like balls inside their house in Dogubayazit, near the Iranian border.

Another child who also tested positive for H5N1 is hospitalized in Van. The child was identified as Yusuf Tunc, and it was not clear whether there was any connection with the others. Doctors said Yusuf was in critical condition.

Apart from Yusuf, 19 other persons were hospitalized in Van with flulike symptoms.

Mr. Unuvar said more than 5,000 boxes of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu were sent to eastern Turkey and five artificial respiration machines were sent to the Van hospital.

In Switzerland, Tamiflu maker Roche Pharmaceuticals said it had expedited the delivery of 100,000 packs of the drug.

Authorities are closely monitoring H5N1 for fear it could mutate into a form easily passed among humans and spark a pandemic.

New bird-flu cases in fowls were detected in five areas in eastern and southeastern Turkey, and authorities have killed 7,000 fowls in those areas, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said.

The problem of containing bird flu in eastern Turkey is aggravated by the fact that almost every house has fowls, which stay inside homes at night when temperatures drop.

Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1.

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