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Turkey’s Poultry Sector Faces Flu Losses

January 14, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ Workers at Ankara’s main zoo covered cages with plastic sheeting Saturday to protect exotic fowl from wild birds that might be carrying the deadly bird flu strain as the government mulled ways to stem staggering losses suffered by Turkey’s poultry producers.

Another of the 18 people who have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain was discharged from a hospital, but Turkish authorities continued slaughtering thousands of chickens, turkeys and geese nationwide as a precaution.

The Turkish government on Saturday set up a committee to make urgent recommendations to save the country’s $3 billion poultry industry, which employs 100,000 people. At least 455,000 domestic birds have been culled, and bird flu in birds is now confirmed or suspected in 26 of Turkey’s 81 provinces.

Kemal Akman, who heads a producer’s union, told the Hurriyet newspaper that sales have plunged by 70 percent since bird flu first was confirmed in people a week ago. He warned that the industry could wind up losing $30 million a month in a protracted health crisis.

``Producers want their concerns addressed rapidly,″ Deputy Prime Minister Abdulatif Sener said Saturday after meeting with other ministers and leaders of the troubled industry. He said the committee had a week to make recommendations on how to minimize losses.

Health officials have said that all 18 of the people with confirmed H5N1 infection _ including three children who died last week in eastern Turkey _ apparently had touched or played with birds, and that there was no evidence of person-to-person infection.

The three were the first known deaths from the virus outside of Asia, where at least 77 have been killed by an outbreak of bird flu since 2003. The WHO said Friday that a 29-year-old Indonesian woman who died this week had tested positive for bird flu, bringing its toll worldwide to at least 79 people. WHO has so far only confirmed two out of the three deaths in Turkey were from the H5N1 strain.

Underscoring how H5N1 infection can be treated and patients can recover, Gulsen Yesilirmak was released from a hospital in the central city of Sivas after responding well to treatment, the Anatolia news agency reported. She had contracted bird flu after throwing dead chickens out of a coop.

Yesilirmak isn’t the only patient with confirmed H5N1 to leave the hospital: On Thursday, 8-year-old Sumeyya Mamuk, who became infected with bird flu after comforting, hugging and kissing dying chickens, was released from a hospital in the eastern city of Van and returned to her family. Her doctors said she was in good condition.

The World Health Organization is examining such cases closely as it tracks how the virus may be changing and tries to determine whether the strain may not always be as lethal as earlier believed.

At the Ataturk Forest Farm Zoo in the capital, Ankara, workers wrapped plastic sheeting around cages to shield some birds from contact with wild fowl potentially carrying the H5N1 strain.

Zoo director Nadir Sahin said workers were isolating the cages of pheasants and chickens that he said were most vulnerable to bird flu, and that uncovered cages containing swans, ducks, falcons, eagles and vultures also would be wrapped as a precaution. Sahin said the zoo’s birds posed no threat to visitors because there was no opportunity for direct contact between the birds and people.

``Some visitors call us to ask if it safe to visit the zoo these days,″ he said, sitting in his office decorated with a few stuffed birds. ``We tell them that they can visit us with no fear.″

Mustafa Muratoglu, 47, visiting the zoo with his 4-year-old nephew, said he was disappointed not to see some of the birds.

``But of course I thought about possible dangers of visiting the zoo during the bird flu outbreak,″ Muratoglu said as his nephew said on his shoulders and peered at the falcons.

As the slaughter of poultry continued, villagers who depend heavily on their birds for meat and eggs demanded to know how they were expected to get by without them.

``Today I gave 10 chickens. The day before I had 50 chickens,″ said Ali Riza Ibeyi, a resident of Cebeci Koyu about 12 miles outside Istanbul, where officials were culling birds Saturday.

``We are a very, very poor village. We live from chickens, and now we don’t have anything. So I am asking the government _ what now? What will happen to us?″


Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser and William J. Kole in Ankara contributed to this story.

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