With police officers standing behind, a resident helps a veterinary official in protective suits to collect poultry in eastern Turkish city of Erzurum, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006. A 15 year-old girl died from bird flu after her 14 year-old brother in Van, Turkey, Thursday, officials said. PHOTO TASR/AP
LONDON - The death of two teenagers in Turkey from bird flu, the first human cases of the disease outside China and southeast Asia, is a serious concern but not the start of a pandemic, health experts said last week. Fatma Kocyigit, a 15-year-old girl from a remote area near the Armenian border, died early last Thursday less than a week after the death of her 14-year-old brother, Mehmet Ali. Turkish officials said tests at two laboratories showed the boy died of the H5N1 bird flu virus. Further tests are being done to confirm if it is the same strain of the virus that has killed 74 people in Asia since 2003. Another member of the teenagers' family is in critical condition. A doctor at the hospital said 7 other people were being treated with similar symptoms. In another eastern province 6 more people were diagnosed with suspected bird flu.
It could mean that the extent of the outbreak in poultry in Turkey has been underestimated or that the virus could jump more easily from birds to humans, Professor John Oxford, of Queen Mary's School of Medicine in London said. But Oxford added that the deaths do not signify the start of a pandemic, which scientists believe could kill millions of people, because the virus has not shown it can spread easily from person to person.
Professor Karl Nicholson, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Leicester in England, said the epicentre of the bird flu is still in Asia. To become a pandemic strain, the H5N1 virus would have to mutate or mix its genetic material with a human virus to become highly infectious in humans. Despite the virus being endemic in poultry in some Asian countries, the number of human infections has been relatively small, according to the scientists. Like affected areas in east Asia, the Turkish teenagers lived in close proximity to poultry and livestock.
Dr Jim Robertson, a virologist at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) in England which provides materials to make vaccines, said more human deaths from bird flu should not have been a surprise. Reuters