A Turkish boy who died at the weekend did not have the lethal bird flu virus as initially feared, but Turkish officials have stepped up measures to avoid an outbreak of the disease in a remote eastern region.
Tests conducted on the 14-year-old boy and three of his siblings who were hospitalised in the eastern city of Van did not point to any kind of flu infection, said Turan Buzgan, the head of the health ministry’s basic health services department.
If confirmed, Muhammet Ali Kocyigit, who died yesterday evening, would have been the first human carrier of the virus outside East Asia, where the disease has killed some 70 people since 2003.
“The disease and the death were not the result of bird flu,” Buzgan told Anatolia news agency.
The illness of the teenager and five other patients suspected of carrying the virus was diagnosed as pneumonia.
“Tests conducted by one of the doctors at our establishment determined that the six patients suffered from pulmonary infections, from pneumonia,” Huseyin Avni Sahin, the chief physician of the hospital in Van said.
The boy and three siblings, aged between six and 15, were hospitalised at the weekend after eating chicken slaughtered after showing signs of the potentially deadly disease two weeks ago.
They had fever and were coughing and bleeding from the mouth.
Two other people, a 35-year-old woman and a five-year-old boy, were hospitalised yesterday in Van with the same symptoms.
Another of the Kocyigit siblings remained in “critical” condition, while the four other patients were doing relatively better, Sahin said.
All six were from the remote town of Dogubeyazit in the province of Agri, less than 100 kilometres south of Aralik, a town on the border with Armenia where the second bird flu outbreak in Turkey was confirmed last week.
Lethal flu strain
Dead chickens in Aralik, Igdir province, tested positive for the H5 avian influenza virus.
Officials are awaiting the test results of samples sent to a British laboratory to determine whether it was the lethal H5N1 strain, which can be dangerous for humans.
Some 750 birds were slaughtered as a precaution to prevent transmission, the town has been put under quarantine and all poultry sales in the outlying areas have been banned.
Authorities in Dogubeyazit said they had also banned the movement of winged animals in and out of the town and ordered residents to bury dead poultry in lime pits.
The head of the local health department told the Radikal daily that poultry in the area would be slaughtered as a precaution and the area would be put under quarantine if laboratory tests confirm the presence of the virus.
A team of experts from the health ministry flew to the region to evaluate the situation.
The first case of H5N1 in the country was detected on October 5 at a turkey farm in the village of Kiziksa, in the north-western province of Balikesir.
Ankara said on December 9 that it had eliminated bird flu in the region, after testing thousands of samples and culling about 10,000 birds.
Veterinary experts have warned that Turkey faces a prolonged threat of bird flu outbreaks because it lies on the flight path of migratory birds, which are believed to have brought the virus to both Kiziksa and Aralik.
It is feared that infected migratory birds may contaminate domestic poultry stocks, further spreading the virus and increasing the risk of it crossing with human influenza strains.
Scientists say millions of people around the world could die if the virus mutates into a form easily passed between humans.