Third child dies as bird flu alarm spreads in Turkey

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A third child from the same family died of bird flu at a hospital within a week in this eastern Turkish city today, doctors said.

Authorities are monitoring the H5N1 strain of the virus, fearing it could mutate into a form easily passed between humans and spark a pandemic killing tens of millions.

Around 25 people were being treated for possible bird flu symptoms early today, as authorities from the health and agriculture ministries attempted to manage more outbreaks across the east of Turkey.

Hulya Kocyigit, 11, died only a day after her 15-year-old sister, Fatma Kocyigit, succumbed to the disease yesterday. Their brother Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, 14, died on Sunday.

The siblings from the eastern town of Dogubayazit, who reportedly also played with the heads of the dead chickens, were hospitalised last week after developing high fevers, coughing and bleeding in their throats.

According to reports, the Kocyigit family took their fowl inside the house when temperatures fell at night and killed and ate the chickens when they got sick.

Most of the sick came from the town of Dogubayazit, 120 miles from Van, the last large town in Turkey before the Iranian border. Two teenage children from Dogubayazit have died of bird flu this week.

All the patients were being treated at Van 100th Yil Hospital in the east of the country. Another 25-30 people had come in for blood tests, received medical care and left, and one was on life support, the hospital official said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he wasn't authorised to speak to the press. Other doctors in contact with patients were not reachable early this morning.

Meanwhile, new bird flu cases in fowl were detected in five areas in eastern and south-eastern Turkey and authorities have culled 7,000 fowl in those areas, Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said yesterday.

In Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey, authorities immediately took four pigeons, found dead near a mosque, to a lab for bird flu tests and sprayed the area with disinfectants, the municipality said in a statement late Thursday, the Anatolia news agency reported early today.

In October, Turkey successfully contained an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus in the western town of Kiziksa, after culling more than 10,000 fowl. But in eastern Turkey, almost every house has fowl and they allow them to go inside their houses at night, aggravating the problem, according to Eker.

"This is a serious problem," he said.

Medicines were flown yesterday to the Van airport, as authorities mobilised to deal with the outbreak. A team of officials from the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation was also sent to Turkey.