Turkish health minister Recep Akdag says preliminary tests show five more people are infected with the bird flu virus. The cases were detected in four provinces, raising the number of suspected and confirmed cases in Turkey to 17.
In the country's commercial capital, Istanbul, home to 10 million people, municipal teams dressed in protective orange jumpsuits began culling chickens and turkey in two districts where the virus was detected in a dead bird.
In Dogubayazit in eastern Turkey, where two siblings succumbed to the disease during the past week, authorities continued to raid homes for poultry that had not been handed in for destruction. On Sunday three bird-flu cases were detected in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where two boys apparently contracted the virus while playing with a pair of gloves used to handle some dead wild ducks.
The World Health Organization, whose experts are conducting investigations in the
affected areas, has confirmed that 10 Turks including the dead siblings, had tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease.
The strain has not been proven to be communicable from human to human. But WHO officials express concern that the more people who contract the disease, the greater the risk that it mutates into a strain that is transmitted among humans.
The deaths in Eastern Turkey are the first confirmed fatalities caused by bird flu outside Asia, where 74 people have been killed by H5N1 since 2003.
The virus was first detected in Turkey in October in and around a bird sanctuary in northwestern Turkey. Avian flu is believed to have been carried to the country by migratory birds from Siberia, the Caucasus and the Balkans.
Turkish authorities have placed affected areas under quarantine and say the most effective way of dealing with the virus is destroy all poultry in such areas. Local Islamic clerics have been ordered to inform their congregations of measures to help combat the disease.
The outbreak of bird flu comes just days ahead of the Muslim feast of Sacrifice, when adherents of the Islamic faith traditionally sacrifice animals and distribute meat to the poor. Heath officials have warned against sacrificing chickens, turkeys or geese this year, favored as a more economical option than sheep.