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Bird flu spreading

The bird flu claimed the life of a 14-year-old girl in Turkey this week, the 21st human case there since the start of the month.


The bird flu claimed the life of a 14-year-old girl in Turkey this week, the 21st human case there since the start of the month.

So far, H5N1 - a deadly strain of bird flu - has killed 79 people since 2003.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported Monday that an additional human case of the bird flu was confirmed by scientists in Ankara, Turkey. The family of the 14-year-old girl started seeing cases of the illness in their own flock of ducks earlier in January. The five-year-old son in that family contracted the illness as well and is currently in the hospital.

The WHO release states that "As with all other cases seen in Turkey to date, both children developed illness following direct exposure to diseased poultry." The same is true for all bird flu fatalities worldwide.

The number of human bird flu fatalities in Turkey is now up to four, with a total of 20 human infections. The WHO states that of the 20 cases there, 18 have been children between four and 18 years of age.

Turkey is the latest in European countries reporting bird flu outbreaks. The H5N1 avian influenza virus has been found in birds across much of Asia already. Human cases of the bird flu have been discovered in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Worldwide, the H5N1 virus has infected more than 140 people since 2003. The WHO maintains pandemic alert rating system, which is currently set at Level 3 "Pandemic Alert" as of Tuesday. The Level 3 alert states the current pandemic threat as "No or very limited human-to-human transmission."

While no cases of the H5N1 virus have been reported in the U.S. yet, local, state and national governments and organizations are creating pandemic plans and encouraging the public to be prepared.

At a recent meeting of the Maryland chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (MDVOAD), members discussed preparations with the state department of health. One issue addressed was just how disaster response organizations will be able to react if their own response workers are threatened by infection.

"This is different from a tornado or hurricane - the physical damage is to people, not to infrastructure or buildings," said one representative at the meeting. "These are massive issues of huge logistics."

Another aspect of being prepared is just staying informed, said another member. Agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and the WHO offer updates and volumes of information about the bird flu.

National church denominations are now helping spread the information as well. In December, the United Church of Christ released a statement on being ready for the bird flu. The statement includes such tips as practicing good hygiene, planning a church response to its own population should infections occur and starting discussion groups on the issue to remain informed.

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