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Turkey Confirms Another Case of Avian Flu


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Turkish television is reporting a new case of bird flu. The case was discovered as Turkish officials conducted tests across the country. Now even before today's news, Turkey confirmed 14 bird flu victims, including three children who died. NPR's Ivan Watson is in the eastern Turkish town where those children died. He's tracking the story.

And, Ivan, how far has the virus spread as far as officials can tell?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

It's gone quite far, Steve. I'm here in Dobyzet(ph). It's in far eastern Turkey on the border with Iran, almost in the shadow of the legendary Mt. Ararat. And in the week since the first cases were documented here, the World Health Organization says it has confirmed bird flu virus in humans in six Turkish provinces, including central Turkey and in the north along the Black Sea coast. They've also seen bird flu emerging in birds across a much larger swath of territory, with reports have been emerging as far west as Istanbul, of course, which is on European territory. The World Health Organization says this animal outbreak is far greater than expected.

INSKEEP: Well, given that, what can Turkish officials do to contain the outbreak?

WATSON: Well, one thing that's being done here, agriculture ministry workers say they have orders to kill every domestic bird in the province, and that's also taking place in neighboring provinces. I walked around with men in white protective suits and hoods and goggles who were going house to house, tromping through the snow with bags and collecting every rooster and chicken. Every household here seems to own some poultry. They're also spraying disinfectant around these chicken pens. Not far out of town, however, you still have chickens and roosters running loose, with some people complaining that they still have not been visited by government workers.

INSKEEP: Well, Ivan, when people turn on CNN in Turkey and see this news or look out their windows and see people in these white protective suits, how are they responding?

WATSON: Well, there is some concern. People have stopped eating chicken, for instance, they say, and they have stopped eating eggs. But I have to tell you, it is a holiday, the beginning of a weeklong holiday here. The streets are empty, People are at home with their families celebrating the Feast of the Sacrifice. I did not see yesterday that this had created some kind of a panic where people stopped doing their last-minute shopping for the holiday.

We are getting reports, though, that some people are reluctant to hand over their poultry, that they are concerned that they're not going to be compensated for handing over their chickens, which are quite valuable to people, some of whom make $300 a month, for instance. I spoke with the governor of this region. He is appealing to people to please take this disease seriously, saying it is very dangerous, and he's also telling people not to kill the birds themselves but to wait, to box them up in their pens, give them food and water and wait for the government workers to come and dispose of them.

INSKEEP: And $300 a month in that part of the country, I would imagine, is the difference between prosperity and poverty for a lot of people.

WATSON: Definitely, and people rely on these chickens in many cases to supplement their diets, especially for the winter.

INSKEEP: Now, Ivan, I want to ask about one other thing. The World Health Organization has been saying that the majority of people being investigated for this virus are children. Why would that be?

WATSON: Well, again, nearly every house here owns poultry, and I've seen that the kids, many of them treat the chickens or the turkeys or what have you, almost as pets. And I was in one house where a girl had a very sad look on her face as her chicken was being taken. She had named some of the chickens, and the World Health Organization says that's why it's being transmitted to kids. They play with these birds, they pet them, and that makes them much more vulnerable to this disease.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much.

That's NPR's Ivan Watson. He is in eastern Turkey, where Turkish television has reported one more case of bird flu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.