Turkey sought yesterday to calm an increasingly jittery public as an outbreak of deadly avian influenza was confirmed in the west of the country, forcing officials to slaughter thousands of domestic birds and even stray dogs.
Officials confirmed that the highly contagious H5N1 virus had been found in Turkish fowl, but the country's health minister tried to play down the concerns.
By last night, working round-the-clock for five days, Turkish veterinary experts had culled 7,600 birds in a two-mile zone near Turkey's popular Aegean coast.
"Bird flu is totally under control," said health minister Recep Akdag. "The outbreak ... occurred in one area and has been contained. Of course, we need to be careful, we need to do our homework well." The Turkish government took the unprecedented step of ordering 1 million boxes of a standard flu medicine from a Swiss pharmaceutical company. It requested that around 300,000 boxes of the antiviral oseltamivir drug, known commercially as Tamiflu, be sent "as soon as possible", according to the Anatolia news agency.
In a move that mirrored UK agriculture minister John Gummer feeding his daughter a beefburger at the height of the BSE crisis, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attempted to reassure the public by eating chicken at a traditional dinner, breaking the daily fast of Ramadan. Newspapers have reported a sharp drop in poultry consumption in Turkey since the outbreak.
"No one in Europe can accuse Turkey of not taking this matter very seriously," one health ministry official said. "We are doing everything we possibly can."
Germany said it was bolstering border controls against bird flu but would await an EU risk-assessment before ordering all poultry indoors. The risk of migratory birds spreading the virus to poultry in Germany was "small to moderate" the agriculture minister, Jurgen Trittin, told a news conference.
Officials in Europe also expressed concern over the risk to human health caused by the move westwards of the virulent Asia H5N1 strain. The virus has killed 60 people - mostly poultry farm workers - in Asia since it first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997. The EU health commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, urged European countries to immediately stockpile antiviral drugs. "It's the first line of defence," he said, advising governments to distribute anti-flu vaccines to the elderly and other vulnerable people "as soon as they can".
Downing Street insisted the government was taking the threat of an avian flu pandemic seriously - and was continuing to stockpile large quantities of vaccine. But it admitted that if humans were infected it might be by a hitherto unknown strain that would be difficult to fight, The Guardian reported. V.A.