MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is spreading across Turkey. Today, the World Health Organization said the virus has been detected in humans in six provinces across the central, northern and eastern parts of the country. Last week, bird flu claimed the lives of two siblings from a remote bordertown in eastern Turkey. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Van in eastern Turkey.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
State radio broadcast alerts today instructing Turks on how to avoid contracting the bird flu virus.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
WATSON: It warned people to stay away from domestic poultry and wild birds, to avoid eating uncooked chicken and it advertised a hotline for questions or concerns. Here at the Usenjail Hospital(ph) in Van where the virus claimed its first two victims last week, many visitors don surgical masks before they step into the building's freezing, unheated halls. The hospital's director, Dr. Hassan Shyen(ph), says hundreds of other people showed up here for treatment in recent days, afraid that they, too, had contracted the disease.
Dr. HASSAN SHYEN (Director, Usenjail Hospital): There was a panic but it's more than what we expected.
WATSON: Shyen says more than 40 people have been hospitalized here and are being investigated for the virus. At medical supply shops throughout this snowbound town, merchants like Irhan Yilma(ph) said they were selling more than 100 surgical masks a day as well as record amounts of latex gloves to a rush of worried customers.
Mr. IRHAN YILMA (Merchants): (Through Translator) I couldn't give a clear number but more than hundreds in a day, more than a hundred in a day, and I have no masks and gloves. I haven't any stock as well. They finished everything.
WATSON: But there was some good news. The six-year-old boy whose brother and sister died of avian flu at Usenjail Hospital was discharged today after testing negative for the virus. Health experts say that so far most of the people being investigated for contracting the virus are children often from the same family who appear to have been in close contact with infected poultry. That has prompted the government to slaughter thousands of birds. But the program doesn't seem to have gotten very far. At this cluster of crude houses on the outskirts of Van, chickens and turkeys continue to peck in the snow of people's yards. Most families here supplement their meager incomes with the eggs and meat of their poultry. Several people, like this 40-year-old day laborer named Norateen Irez(ph) said their chickens have mysteriously fallen ill in recent days.
Mr. NORATEEN IREZ (Day Laborer): (Foreign language spoken)
WATSON: `There is fluid dripping from their beaks,' Irez said. `We called the hotline, but no one came. If you see the authorities,' he added, `please ask them to come take our birds.'
Mr. MEMEK KATETYE(ph): (Foreign language spoken)
WATSON: Nearby, this man named Memek Katetye said just hours ago, he butchered his own sick chickens and then threw them in the woods, only to see dogs drag the corpses back into the neighborhood. An official from the World Health Organization says bird flu is now well established in this region, and yet, that did not dampen spirits in downtown Van where the atmosphere was festive as residents finished up last-minute shopping ahead of a week-long Muslim holiday. Yesterday, three cases of bird flu were discovered in people living hundreds of miles west of here near the Turkish capital Ankara. Health experts say with every additional case, there is more of a risk that the virus will mutate and begin spreading from person to person, making it far more contagious and deadly. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Van in eastern Turkey.
NORRIS: Howard Stern, unleashed. What will the country's top shock jock mean for satellite radio? That story just ahead on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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