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UN Warns Bird Flu in Turkey Could Spread to Neighboring Countries

The U.N. food and agriculture agency is warning that the bird flu virus could become widespread in Turkey and poses serious risk to neighboring countries. Meanwhile, in Italy a special monitoring unit is being created amid fears the virus could spread west.

The Rome-based U.N. food agency, the FAO, says bird flu could become endemic in Turkey. The agency said the H5N1 virus is a serious threat to neighboring nations who must be on high alert.

Senior animal health officer Juan Lubroth said the virus could be spreading despite measures taken to combat it. Turkey, he said, must apply a centrally coordinated and countrywide control campaign.

FAO says it has sent a team of experts to Turkey where the virus is believed to have infected 12 people. Of these, two children have died.

Lubroth said this situation would worsen unless locations where the bird flu virus is present are not isolated. He said poultry in outbreak areas should be moved only with the permission or veterinarians.

The animal health officer also said suspicious cases should be reported immediately to avoid spreading the virus. Control measures in the outbreak areas, he added, should include humane culling, strict isolation and, if and when appropriate, vaccination.

Regional officials in Turkey have been warned that they must have control measures in place and that the public must be made aware of the risk that bird flu poses.

In Italy, the public is aware that the virus could migrate and fear has led many to stop eating poultry. The Italian health minister has said the situation is more serious than a few months ago.

After consulting with veterinary officials, virologists and other experts this week, the minister announced the creation of a special crisis unit to monitor the situation. Italians have been warned not to buy alleged vaccines advertised on the Internet and elsewhere.

Former Italian health minister, Girolamo Sirchia, said we must focus all our attention on prevention, to ensure that we are prepared to stamp out the virus the moment it appears. What is required, he added, is speed in the diagnosis and intervention, and an organized response without creating confusion.

In a further effort at informing the public, Italians traveling to Turkey are being given pamphlets warning them of the dangers and telling them to stay away from live poultry, markets, and raw meat.