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Turkish bird flu patient shows signs of improvement; another boy discharged

Updated:
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ The U.N.'s health agency said Thursday it expected the number of new bird flu infections among humans in Turkey to decline, as two young boys with the virus showed improvement, and one of them was healthy enough to be released from the hospital.

The boys were among 21 people, preliminary tests say, were infected in Turkey with the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. One of them, a 4-year-old from the city of Sanliurfa, was said to have recovered completely.

As the government moved to control the outbreak in poultry by culling fowl, and as a government campaign telling people to avoid contact with sick birds began to kick in, the World Health Organization said it expected fewer cases of human infection to emerge.

``The situation is getting better,'' WHO spokeswoman Cristiana Salvi told The Associated Press. She warned, however, that it was still too early to say the crisis was over.

``We can expect a few more cases'' of infection, she said.

``A lot of effort is being put into controlling the outbreak in animals,'' Salvi said, ``but it takes time.''

``The educational program ... helps decrease the number of cases,'' she said.

``Some additional human cases should be anticipated in the immediate future,'' the agency said on its Web site.

``The number of these cases is, however, expected to decline as high-risk behaviors become less common and culling operations, which are presently under way, reduce the number of infected birds,'' it said.

Most of the cases in Turkey involved children and teenagers, aged between 4 and 18. Turkey has destroyed about 1 million fowl in an attempt to limit contact with humans in this largely rural country, where most villagers raise their own chickens, turkeys and geese.

Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions. The virus has jumped from poultry to people, killing at least 79 people in east Asia and Turkey since 2003.

The WHO has stressed it has no evidence of person-to-person infection in Turkey, where H5N1 has killed four children so far.

The latest victim confirmed to have the deadly strain was 5-year-old Muhammet Ozcan, who lost his sister to the disease on Sunday. He was reported to be in critical condition for two days, but doctors at the hospital in the eastern city of Van _ near the border with Iran _ said Thursday his condition had improved. The boy is battling an infection that has spread in his lungs.

``He will probably recover,'' Dr. Aydin Deveci told the AP.

On Wednesday, 4-year-old Selami Bas, who also tested positive for H5N1, was discharged from a hospital in the southeastern province Sanliurfa, Gov. Yusuf Yavascan said Thursday. The boy was admitted to hospital some 10 days ago and became ill after coming into contact with chickens.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said there was no evidence that an 11-year-old girl who died Wednesday while being transferred from one hospital to another had any contact with fowl, but said samples from her body were being tested for bird flu anyway.

Dennis Carrol, a senior infectious diseases adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development, met with Haluk Nadir, the local administrator for the town of Beypazari, 100 kilometers (60 miles) away from Ankara, where two young boys were infected with H5N1 after playing with gloves that their father had used to handle a pair of dead wild ducks. Carroll _ part of a team of U.S. experts visiting Turkey to assess what help Washington can provide _ also met with the boys' father.

Beypazari was placed under quarantine and officials have been culling poultry to combat the outbreak. U.S. experts wore protective clothing during their visit to the area.

``We are very interested in learning how you've responded to the recent outbreaks ... how effective you have been to establish a quarantine,'' Carroll told Nadir.

The bird flu crisis has hit the country's poultry industry hard, with authorities saying sales have plunged by 70 percent.

Producers have warned that the euro2.5 billion (US$3 billion) industry, which employs 100,000 people, could lose euro25 million (US$30 million) a month if the crisis continues. They are demanding tax incentives, low-interest credits and government compensation to cull millions of older chickens that no longer produce eggs.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged people not to stop eating chicken and eggs from professional poultry farms, saying the disease was confined to birds raised in people's open gardens.

In Beijing, donors at a bird flu conference pledged more than US$1.9 billion (euro1.57 billion) to fight the virus and prepare for a possible human flu pandemic.
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