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Planet Ark World Environment News Turkey Says Neighbours Hushing up Bird Flu

Date: 23-Jan-06
Country: TURKEY
Author: Selcuk Gokoluk

"It is unofficially known that this illness exists in our neighbouring countries which are ruled by closed regimes, but these countries do not declare this because of their systems," Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker told a news conference.

He did not name the countries he had in mind, but Iran and Syria are two likely targets of the criticism.

Syria has asked the United Nations for help and will tighten surveillance along its border with Turkey, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) official said.

Juan Lubroth, senior FAO animal health officer, told Reuters he did not consider Syria's unusual request for assistance to be confirmation that the country had a bird flu problem.

"It means that they want to get prepared to maybe diagnose it if it were to come in soon," Lubroth said.

"We will be fielding a team there with the WHO (World Health Organisation) in the next week or so."

The WHO said it was sending teams of experts to Syria, Iran, Iraq, as well as Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The outbreak in Turkey is the first among people outside East Asia. The epicentre of Turkey's outbreak is in the east of the country bordering Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed at least 80 people since late 2003. Victims contract the virus through close contact with sick birds, but there are fears it could mutate into a form that can pass easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic.

COMPENSATION

Turkey has culled more than 1.1 million wild birds and poultry since the outbreak began two weeks ago.

The Turkish government unveiled a $40 million aid package on Friday for poultry firms hit by bird flu, including compensation for culled chickens and postponement of tax and debt payments.

The outbreak has hit the $3 billion sector hard. Sales have fallen dramatically in the domestic market and a number of countries have imposed import bans on Turkish poultry products.

However, industry representatives said the measures did not go far enough.

Tamiflu, the drug which many governments have stockpiled to ward off a pandemic, appears to be an effective treatment for the disease if administered early enough, its maker Roche Holding AG said.

Switzerland's Roche said on Friday tests on animals showed Tamiflu could work against the current virus but that more studies were needed into how much Tamiflu should be given in order to effectively combat the virus in humans.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Rome, Tom Armitage in Zurich and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)

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