By Gareth Jones
ANKARA, Jan 1 (Reuters) – A child being tested for possible avian influenza died in a Turkish hospital on Sunday, but doctors said there was no evidence he had fallen victim to the deadly disease which has killed more than 70 people in Asia.
Five other people from the same region of eastern Turkey, four of them children, are undergoing tests in Van hospital near the Iranian border after exhibiting flu symptoms and failing to react to antibiotics.
“Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, 14, died despite all our efforts to save him,” the head doctor at the Van hospital, Huseyin Avni Sahin, told NTV commercial television, adding that the cause of his death was not yet known.
He said a team of experts from the capital Ankara would travel to the region on Monday to investigate.
Turkey, which lies on the path of migratory birds that are believed to spread the virus, has suffered two outbreaks of the highly contagious disease among poultry in the past three months, the latest last week in the eastern province of Igdir.
No humans are known to have contracted the disease in Turkey or Europe, though veterinary experts across the continent have been on alert culling birds and taking other precautionary measures since October outbreaks in Turkey and Romania.
In the Igdir outbreak, the strain has been identified as the H5 type but authorities are conducting further tests to see whether it is the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed scores of people in east Asia since 2003 and forced the slaughter of millions of birds.
Turkey has sent samples from Igdir to the World Health Organisation and the European Union for more tests.
All six of the Van patients, including the dead boy, are from the district of Dogubayazit, a remote, rural area where farming and animal husbandry are the main form of livelihood.
CULLING OF BIRDS
The Anatolia state news agency quoted local officials as saying they had banned all transportation of poultry in Dogubayazit and that culling of birds would begin shortly as a precautionary measure.
Sunday’s Zaman newspaper said authorities in Erzurum province, also in eastern Turkey, have culled more than 700 poultry in recent days after 15 chickens died “in suspicious circumstances”.
The October outbreak of bird flu occurred in northwestern Turkey, triggering the culling of more than 10,000 birds. That outbreak was identified as the deadly H5N1 strain. Several people were briefly hospitalised.
The Agriculture Ministry declared that region free of bird flu in early December, but experts say the country remains vulnerable because of the movements of migratory birds.
Turkish authorities say they believe the Igdir outbreak was caused by migratory birds from the Caucasus.