Two children in Turkey are the latest confirmed cases of bird flu in humans, doctors revealed Sunday. The news comes after WHO experts arrived in the affected region to assess the threat.
WHO experts in Turkey are assessing the threat as two more cases were confirmed
The two new confirmed cases of bird flu in Turkey are children, like the two siblings who died from the disease over the past week, their doctor said Sunday.
The two, hospitalized in the eastern city of Van, are a five-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, chief physician Huseyin Avni Sahin told AFP.
Sahin said the hospital had been informed about the results of tests done at laboratories in Turkey and Britain confirming that the children carried the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which may be lethal to humans.
"What is encouraging is that their condition has improved and
they are currently well," he said.
Three children from the same family, aged between 11 and 15, died in the same hospital in Van over the past week after coming in close contact with sick chicken.
Two of them have been confirmed to have contracted the H5N1 virus, while the definite cause of the death of the third is not yet known.
They are the first confirmed human fatalities from H5N1 outside Southeast Asia and China, where the disease has killed more than 70 people since 2003.
A fourth sibling, aged six, was reported in good condition, and doctors said the boy may be soon discharged.
World Health Organization experts were in Turkey Saturday to look for any signs of much-feared human-to-human transmission of bird flu after the first deaths from the disease outside east Asia were confirmed in the east of the country.
The experts were to visit the hospital in Van city where three siblings from the same family died after coming in close contact with sick chickens, and review the situation in Dogubeyazit town, where the children lived, said Health Minister Recep Akdag, who was accompanying the delegation.
"There is no suspicion at the moment over a possible human-to-human transmission," Akdag said at Ankara airport, from where the group was to fly out to Van, Anatolia news agency reported.
Fear of human-to-human contagion raises pandemic concerns
Currently, humans are thought only to contract bird flu if they come into close contact with infected birds, but scientists fear that millions around the world could die if the virus crosses with human flu strains to become highly contagious.
The deaths in Turkey, the first known human fatalities outside Southeast Asia and China, brought the threat of a pandemic to Europe's doorstep.
Turkish authorities are battling to contain the outbreak -- and the ensuing panic.
A WHO spokeswoman said Friday that experts from the organization would help Turkish officials take the right measures to prevent any spread. "The initial hypothesis we are working on is that the children affected had dealt with diseased chickens and were thus infected," Fadela Chaib said.
But the experts "will also try to see if we are faced with the first case of human-to-human transmission, which would be the start of a flu epidemic," she added.
H5N1 strain rife in affected area, health officials claim
Tests done in Turkey and confirmed by a laboratory in Britain established that two of the victims carried the lethal H5N1 virus, a senior health ministry official said Friday.
He said one of the dead children's results had been negative, but did not specify which one, and that a third person who tested positive was being treated in a hospital in Van.
The H5N1 strain was confirmed in at least one patient being treated in Van.
Apart from the one patient confirmed to be carrying H5N1, 19 others, mostly children, have been hospitalized in Van on suspicion of carrying the disease.
Akdag said that despite several suspicious cases in other parts of the country, "there are no probable or highly probable (human) cases in Turkey other than the patients in Van."
The sub-type H5N1 is the strain responsible for the deaths of more than 70 people in Southeast Asia and China since 2003, nearly 40 of whom succumbed last year alone.
Three siblings die after weather forced birds to be housed in home
The first of the Turkish victims, Mehmet Kocyigit, 14, died Sunday, followed five days later by his 15-year-old sister Fatma. Their sister Hulya, 11, succumbed Friday after several days in intensive care. The condition of a fourth sibling, a six-year-old boy, was reportedly improving.
It is thought that the bad winter conditions in the area forced the family to bring their infected poultry flock into the home.
Medics and family members carry the coffin of Mehmet Kocyigit.
The Kocyigit siblings and most of the other patients in Van were from the remote town of Dogubeyazit, less then 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the town of Aralik, at the Armenian border, which was quarantined last week after poultry tested positive for bird flu.
As veterinary experts culled fowl and disinfected the areas, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker announced Friday that bird flu has been found in two wild ducks near the capital Ankara, nearly 1,000 kilometers (700 miles) west of the infected area.
The discovery raised fears that migratory birds may be spreading the disease across the vast country, as experts had warned.