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Lab Finds Mutation in Bird Flu Virus; EU Pledges $100 Million in Aid

BY Admin  January 13, 2006 at 2:20 PM EDT

While the lab said the virus did not appear to be a more dangerous strain, some health officials have warned that a virus that mutates to spread more easily between chickens and humans could mutate to pass more easily from human to human.

Turkey is the first country outside of Asia to have lost human victims to the bird flu virus. Last week, three children died in the eastern part of the country and 15 others have tested positive, Reuters reported. Turkish authorities are also testing a fourth child, a 4-year-old girl from eastern Turkey who died Friday.

Despite denials from Turkey’s agricultural minister that bird flu caused the girl’s death, a doctor in the hospital where she died confirmed that tests were ongoing.

“We have sent samples taken from her to Ankara,” Dr. Eralp Arikan Diarba told Reuters. “We cannot say anything more right now.”

Turkey has been forced to cull more than 350,000 birds, most recently 7,000 in the southern province of Isparta, where authorities detected the virus.

Iran, which neighbors Turkey, also has begun mass culling of poultry along its northwestern border with Turkey, a health ministry official said, according to Reuters.

Worldwide, the H5N1 strain of the bird flu has killed 78 people and infected 147, according to World Health Organization estimates. The United Nations has said donors at an upcoming conference in Beijing must contribute $1.4 billion in aid to fight the virus’ spread globally.

On Friday, the European Union pledged $100 million for the global campaign.

“I am optimistic we are going to close the financial gap in Beijing,” EU external relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a news conference in announcing the aid package.

Some successes have been evident in the bird flu fight. In Turkey, a hospital discharged two children who tested positive for the virus, but who were treated with Tamiflu.

“She has completely recovered,” a doctor in Van told Reuters of one of the children.

The Turkish supplies of the drug Tamiflu are part of a larger stockpile of 30 million capsules given to the World Health Organization for “rapid response” by Roche, the Swiss maker of the drug, David Reddy, head of Roche’s flu pandemic task force, told Reuters.

The firm also is negotiating with the WHO to provide an Asian stockpile, Reuters reported.