Second teenager dies in Turkey bird flu outbreak

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The Independent Online

A second Turkish teenager who tested positive for bird flu died today, the semi-official Anatolia news agency reported.

Turkey yesterday confirmed two human cases of bird flu, one of whom, a teenage boy, died on Sunday after developing pneumonia-like symptoms. His sister died in hospital early today, Anatolia reported.

If the cases - all three are siblings - are confirmed as being from the deadly H5N1 strain, they will be the first in people outside of South-east Asia in the current bird flu outbreak. The British Government says it is monitoring the situation.

The World Health Organisation said the strain of bird flu is most likely to be H5N1. More tests are taking place on samples which have been sent to Britain.

As eight more people were sent to hospital in eastern Turkey with severe pneumonia-like symptoms yesterday, the Health Minister, Recep Akdag, said: "Two patients have tested positive, and there is another suspected case."

The announcement is a reversal of the Turkish health ministry's assurances three days ago that Muhammet Ali Kocyigit, 14, had not died of bird flu.

While Mr Akdag was saying that Turkey has " a pandemic plan" and people should not be "alarmist", Ahmet Faik Oner, a spokesperson at Van university hospital where Muhammet died, said: "I don't think we were ready for this as a nation".

He said there was a two-day delay in administering the appropriate treatment to Muhammet due to a shortage of the Tamiflu anti-viral drug. His sister, Fatma, 11, who is in a serious condition in hospital, provided the second positive result, Mr Akdag said. A third sibling is also suspected of having the same disease.

The children helped to raise poultry on a small farm in the town of Dogubeyazit, and were in close contact with sick birds. They were admitted to hospital after developing high fevers, coughing, and bleeding in their throats.

Huseyin Avni Sahin, the chief physician at Van university hospital, said 11 people, comprising the three members of Muhammet's family and people from nearby areas, were being treated or under observation for suspected bird flu.

Last night, a spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said poultry workers should maintain particularly good hygiene at the moment, isolate any birds that may be sick and alert authorities of any illness.

However, he added: "The cases in Asia have been among people who have been closely involved with sick birds. Close contact is needed to transmit this from bird to human."

Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1 and more than 70 people have died from the virus in Asia.