News - Turkey's Bird-Flu Outbreaks Began 3 Weeks Before Initial Report
The current wave of lethal bird flu in Turkey that has infected at least 18 people began in mid November, more than three weeks before an initial report, the World Organization for Animal Health said.
Outbreaks of the H5N1 avian influenza virus affected birds as early as Nov. 21, Huseyin Sungur, a government veterinary official, said in a Jan. 12 report to the Paris-based organization. The report was posted on the organization's Web site yesterday. Turkey, in a statement on Dec. 27, said outbreaks began on Dec. 15 in Igdir province, bordering Iran.
The delay in reporting the outbreak highlights the need to improve early detection and reporting systems to help contain infections. Authorities are concerned outbreaks among birds create more opportunity for human infection and increase the risk of the virus changing into a form that is more contagious to people. Such a virus could touch off a pandemic similar to the one that killed as many as 50 million people in 1918.
At least 147 human cases of H5N1 have been confirmed in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Cambodia and Turkey, the United Nations health agency said on Jan. 10. Of those, 78 have died.
Turkey has reported 18 laboratory-confirmed avian flu cases, of which three, all from the same family, were fatal.
More than 11,400 poultry and wild birds have died in Turkey's current wave of the H5N1 virus, which may have started with three dead pigeons found near the village of Caglayan in the eastern province of Erzincan on Nov. 21.
The H5N1 virus was later reported to have caused outbreaks in the provinces of Agri, Sanli Urfa, Bitlis, Igdir, Erzum, Yozgat, Bursa, Van, Ankara and Istanbul, according to the government report.
More than 31,800 fowl have been destroyed in an attempt to stem the disease's spread, it said.
Turkey reported an initial H5N1 outbreak in its western region in October.
The report of outbreaks in Turkey comes as virologists worry the H5N1 strain there may be adapting to become more infectious to humans.
Samples from a patient who died in Turkey showed mutations where the virus binds to human cells, the World Health Organization said on Jan. 12. The changes indicate the virus may bind preferentially to human cell receptors more so than to avian cell receptors, the WHO said.