News - The Observer | World | Turkey to test thousands in bid to contain bird flu outbreak
Tens of thousands of men, women and children across Turkey may be tested for bird flu, to see whether they carry any symptoms or have developed antibodies to it, in a concerted attempt by international experts to stop the virus before it becomes fully contagious to people.
The World Health Organisation has asked Turkey for permission to send teams into infected villages to take blood samples, swab throats and interview families. They would like to start the work this week to prevent the disease spreading into new regions.
Dr Guenael Rodier, a communicable diseases expert at WHO, said experts need to gain more insight into how the deadly H5N1 strain is spreading and whether it is mutating, as they race to contain the virus in case it becomes easily transmissible from person to person. So far, health experts have focused on the 18 people in Turkey - including three children who died a week ago - who have confirmed H5N1 infection, and on others kept in hospital with flu-like symptoms. All are thought to have caught it after having close contact with chickens.
One of the 18 people known to be infected with the deadly strain, Gulsen Yesilirmak, was discharged from hospital yesterday after responding well to treatment. She had contracted the disease after throwing dead chickens out of a coop.
There was a bird flu scare in Belgium yesterday when a man, thought to be a journalist, fell ill with flu symptoms. The unidentified man was isolated in a hospital in Brussels after a visit earlier in the week to the Turkish province of Van, which has suffered three bird flu fatalities. But blood tests showed that he tested negative for the deadly H5N1 strain. British health officials stress that the level of risk to the UK remained the same, as there was still no evidence yet that the virus was easily transmissible to people.
Meanwhile, the countries surrounding Turkey - Iran, Georgia, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria and Greece - have been put on high alert by the WHO to keep vigilant for any early signs of infected birds.
Turkish officials are trying to organise the culling of thousands of birds in order to wipe out the disease, which has hit their farming industry badly. More than half a million birds have already been culled, but the disease appears to be rife in 13 of Turkey's 81 provinces, with a further 18 provinces thought to be affected. Millions of Turkish families keep chickens, and there is confusion over whether they will be allowed to do so following the outbreak of the disease.
The Observer World Turkey to test thousands in bid to contain bird flu outbreak