Tue, Jan 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Turkish boy may have died of bird flu, sister also ill

AP , ANKARA

A 14-year-old Turkish boy who was one of six people tested for bird flu has died and his sister was in a critical and worsening condition, doctors said.

Authorities were still waiting for test results and could not immediately confirm whether the boy's death on Sunday was caused by bird flu. If confirmed, it would be the country's first human fatality from the virus.

"It can't be known whether the disease is bird flu or not before the test results is announced in Ankara," Huseyin Avni Sahin, chief physician at 100th Yil Hospital in the country's southeastern Van province, told the Anatolia news agency.

Authorities were expecting preliminary test results yesterday. Four other children and a 35-year-old woman suffering from fever and pneumonia-like symptoms have also been tested for the bird flu virus over the past two days.

Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia recently tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain in birds, but no human cases have been detected.

The 14-year-old boy, Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, had been on life support after his brain functions stopped, Sahin said. Authorities said they would keep the boy's body at the hospital's morgue as a precaution until after the test results, Anatolia reported.

The boy was among two brothers and two sisters between six and 15 years old who were admitted to hospital on Saturday after developing high fevers, coughing and bleeding in their throats. The children helped to raise poultry on a farm and were in close contact with sick birds. They became sick after reportedly eating one of them.

Two other patients, aged 35 and five, were sent to the same hospital on Sunday, the Anatolia news agency reported, as Turkish health and security authorities gathered to coordinate a response.

One of Kocyigit's sisters, Fatma Kocyigit, was in critical condition, Sahin said.

"Two of the children's situation is critical," chief physician Huseyin Avni Sahin had said just hours beforehand. "This doesn't mean it is bird flu. Bird flu is one of the possibilities."

Sahin said it was too early to call their illness bird flu and the hospital was awaiting test results.

The World Health Organization says poultry is safe to eat in areas affected by the virus so long as it is properly cooked and handled during preparation.

Turkish authorities last week said some chickens had tested positive for an H5 variant of bird flu and placed parts of an eastern town, Aralik, near the border with Armenia, under quarantine. The sick brothers and sisters are from the town of Dogubeyazit, just 60km south of Aralik.

"Right now, there is nothing to worry about," Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said.

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