A Turkish teenager whose brother died of bird flu also succumbed to the disease yesterday, a Turkish doctor said, as authorities tried to determine if the siblings had contracted the virulent H5N1 strain of the virus.
If confirmed, the brother and sister would be the first people outside of Asia to die of the H5N1 strain in the latest outbreak. Preliminary tests have confirmed the teenagers had bird flu and samples were being sent to a British lab to determine if they succumbed to the H5N1 strain.
Fatma Kocyigit, 15, died in a hospital in the eastern city of Van, four days after the death of her 14-year-old brother, Mehmet Ali Kocyigit, the Anatolia new agency reported, citing Ahmet Faik Oner, the doctor who treated the siblings. Their 11-year-old sister, Hulya, was hospitalized with suspected bird flu.
The siblings were admitted to the hospital last week after developing high fevers, coughing and bleeding in their throats.
Eight other people with similar symptoms were being treated at the hospital, said Huseyin Avni Sahin, head physician at the hospital. Sahin told private NTV television that some other patients were hospitalized in the eastern city of Erzurum because his hospital was not capable of handling more cases.
Authorities are closely monitoring H5N1, for fear it could mutate into a form easily passed between humans and spark a pandemic.
The virus has killed 74 people -- mainly farm workers in close contact with fowl from Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia -- according to the World Health Organization, whose figures were last updated on Dec. 30.
Birds in Turkey, Romania, Russia and Croatia have recently tested positive for H5N1.
The Kocyigit children helped raise poultry on a small farm in the eastern town of Dogubeyazit, close to Iranian border, and were in close contact with sick birds.
Health Minister Recep Akdag, speaking late on Wednesday, did not say if Mehmet Ali Kocyigit had died from H5N1. The samples were to be sent to a British lab for further tests yesterday morning, he said.
Akdag contradicted a ministry statement earlier this week that said the boy's death had not been caused by bird flu. Akdag said authorities repeated the test in two separate laboratories following an autopsy.
"We have a pandemic plan ready," Akdag said. "There is no need to be too alarmist."
Akdag said Turkey had enough stocks of medicine to cope with an outbreak. But he warned people, especially those in close contact with poultry, not to touch sick animals.
Regional governors were scheduled to meet yesterday to discuss measures to contain bird flu, the private NTV television channel reported.
Dogubeyazit is some 60km from the town of Aralik where Turkish authorities last week said some chickens had tested positive for an H5 variant of bird flu. Authorities have said the virus was believed to have been brought by birds migrating from the Caucasus regions.
Authorities have culled more than 1,500 fowl across eastern Turkey since last week.
In Van, workers culled about 200 fowl, while certain areas were declared off limits to unauthorized people, Governor Niyazi Tanilir said yesterday.