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(photo credit: AP [file])
The bird flu outbreak in western Turkey has been contained, the Turkish government said Thursday, urging the public to remain calm amid panic over news that Turkish birds were infected with the virulent H5N1 virus.
Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker said authorities were on alert for any outbreak in the rest of Turkey, which lies in the path of several migratory bird species.
"We are acting against even the smallest of suspicions," Eker said. "The situation is under control."
"Our aim is to eradicate it in the shortest possible time ... God willing, it will be eradicated," Eker said.
The European Union announced earlier Thursday that it found the H5N1 virus strain in Turkish poultry, the first confirmation of H5N1 so far west. The strain has killed 60 people in Asia since 2003, mostly people who worked with poultry.
Experts have been tracking the disease in birds because they worry the strain might mutate into a variant more easily transmitted between humans and spark a pandemic. Public health authorities want the poultry outbreaks wiped out as rapidly as possible to prevent opportunities for mutations.
Government ministers and other officials raced to reassure the public. "Of course, we need to be careful; we need to do our homework well," Health Minister Recep Akdag said soon after the announcement was made in Brussels.
"The outbreak in winged animals occurred in one area and has been contained," he said. "Our citizens should not panic."
Eker said eight people were given medication protectively, but no one in Turkey has contracted the disease. The quarantine will be lifted at the end of 21 days if no new cases emerge, he said.
Turkey asked the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG for 1 million boxes of a standard flu medicine, which might help protect against bird flu infection in humans, a health official said Thursday. Newspapers reported sharp increase in the sale of the drug.
The outbreak of H5N1 began in Asia two years ago.
By July, it had spread to the Asian part of Russia. The case in Turkey is disturbing because it shows further spread of the virus westward.
Any time the virus shows up in a new location, it presents more opportunities for mutating into a form more dangerous to humans. There are two ways it could mutate: randomly on its own when passing from bird to bird, or by spawning a human pandemic strain by infecting a person who already has normal human flu.
The two viruses could swap genes to produce a dangerous hybrid that has the lethality of the bird virus but the spreading potential of the human one.
The European Union on Monday banned imports of live birds and feathers from Turkey. Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Poland, Ukraine and Serbia-Montenegro also banned poultry imports from Turkey.
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