EU sends vet to Turkey to assess bird flu threat TDN Friday, January 6, 2006 BRUSSELS - REUTERS The European Union has sent a veterinary expert to Turkey to help it tackle bird flu after the disease was found to have killed two teenagers in eastern Turkey, the European Commission said on Thursday. The deaths occurred in a remote rural district near Turkey's border with Armenia, where people live in close proximity to livestock and poultry. There was the possibility of more suspected cases of bird flu in humans in the area, the commission said in a statement. Although experts say more tests are needed to be certain of the virus, all evidence points to it being the H5N1 strain -- appearing to mark a major shift westwards to the edge of Europe of a disease that has killed 74 people in Asia since 2003. Samples of the dead poultry will now be sent to the EU's reference laboratory in Weybridge, near London, for tests to be carried out, the commission statement said. WHO sends team of experts: The Turkish authorities are also sending samples from the human cases to a separate World Health Organization reference laboratory in Britain to confirm the identity of the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday sent a team of experts to Turkey to help investigate the deaths of two teenagers from suspected bird flu, a senior official said. The team, which had been requested by Ankara, included epidemiologists who would try to verify the source of the deadly virus which is believed to have killed a brother and sister in a remote rural district of Turkey near the Armenian border. WHO officials say that there is little doubt that the deaths were due to the feared H5N1 avian virus, making them the first human cases to occur outside China and Southeast Asia. On Thursday, a second test in Istanbul had supported the findings of an Ankara laboratory that H5N1 was responsible, said Guenael Rodier, special adviser on communicable diseases at the Geneva-based World Health Organisation (WHO). While a final diagnosis would only come after samples were examined at a laboratory in Britain later this week, the Istanbul lab had used a genetic technique that was as good as a fingerprint of the virus, he added. "I have no reason not to trust the result," he told Reuters by telephone from the WHO's European headquarters in Copenhagen. But the WHO, which had been expecting human cases after the virus was detected amongst wild birds and poultry in Turkey and parts of south-east Europe late last year, said that this did not mean a worldwide flu pandemic had become more likely. "From a distance it looks like we have no need to be concerned as it (the Turkish case) looks very like what happened in Asia, but let the investigators do their job," Rodier said.