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Bird Flu Infections Suspected in Istanbul

The bird flu virus appears to be moving westward as more humans have been infected in Turkey. While several tested positive for the deadly strain in the capital Ankara, people in Istanbul have been hospitalized.

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These Turkish boys should probably be more careful when dealing with birds right now

According to news reports, 21 people with a suspected infection have been hospitalized in Istanbul. Test results are expected Monday. Dead chickens carrying the virus were found in a suburb in the European part of the Turkish metropolis.

Istanbul Blaue Moschee P178

Has the bird flu virus arrived in Istanbul?

Fear is on the rise in Turkey that the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is on the move after two children and an adult tested positive for the virus in Ankara on Sunday. The two children are believed to have played with gloves their father had worn to carry dead infected birds.

They are the first known cases outside the eastern city of Van, 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) east of the Turkish capital. There, at least two children -- siblings -- have died of the virus in the past week. A third sibling also died, but the cause of death has not yet been confirmed as bird flu. If confirmed, the number of human infections would rise to 10.

No pa n demic i n sight?

Vogelgrippe Türkei - Vogelfutterverkäuferin in Istanbul

A woman wears a protective mask while selling bird food in Istanbul

Health officials are closely monitoring the situation as they fear the virus could mutate into a form easily passable among humans and spark a pandemic. United Nations bird flu coordinator David Nabarro said the virus has so far only been confirmed in humans who were in close contact with poultry.

"We think this is infection coming from birds into the human population," he said. "And we have no evidence yet of change that takes us any closer to the pandemic that we're all looking out for."

According to the Turkish ministry of agriculture, the virus has already been found in 10 of the country's 81 provinces.

WHO praises Turkey

The World Health Organization meanwhile has praised the Turkish government for its transparency in handling the situation, stressing that the best advice is to avoid close contact with poultry.

A team of WHO experts travelled to the worst-hit regions in Turkey's east to assess the government's response and look for any signs of the much-feared human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Vogelgrippe Türkei - Desinfektion von Autos

Turkish officials are desinfecting cars to combat the virus

A senior WHO scientist said the outbreak in Turkey did not indicate increased risk for humans and blamed the spread on insufficient health controls in the vast country.

"It seems that the epidemic has been spreading among animals in Turkey for much longer than believed," the WHO's Klaus Stöhr told German radio.

Turkish authorities are continuing emergency culling. They are also trying to raise awareness in the country's eastern regions, where many people are illiterate and where poultry often enough is one of the family's most prized possessions.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has become the first to warn its citizens of travel to Turkey. Neighboring Iran only lets disinfected trucks cross the border from Turkey.

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