Turkish Authorities on Alert for Bird Flu Spread

Police searched cars entering this western Turkish village Thursday and warned people not to touch chickens or turkeys after the European Union confirmed that a virulent strain of bird flu had been detected in poultry there.

The Turkish government said it has contained the outbreak of the H5N1 virus (search), which scientists worry might mutate into a human virus and spark a pandemic.

Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker also said authorities were on alert for any cases elsewhere in Turkey, which lies on the path of several migratory bird species.

Bird flu was detected after 1,800 turkeys died on a farm in Kiziksa, 80 miles southwest of Istanbul. Authorities have culled some 8,600 turkeys and chickens in the area and placed the village under quarantine.

"We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in Brussels, Belgium. "There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China."

The H5N1 bird flu strain does not easily infect humans, but 117 people, mostly poultry workers, have caught it over the last two years and 60 of them have died. Scientists are tracking the spread of the virus in birds because it could mutate into a dangerous human pandemic strain.

Turkish authorities believe the turkeys contracted the disease from migratory birds that pass through the Manyas Bird Sanctuary just outside of the village on their way to Africa from the Ural mountains in Russia.

Turkish paramilitary police set up three checkpoints outside the village, the first eight miles away. Police there stopped cars, asking people what they had inside.

At a second checkpoint, a paramilitary policeman searched cars and warned people entering the village not to carry "any winged animals out of here and don't touch them."

A third checkpoint was right at the perimeter of the village, but cars were not stopped.

Kyprianou said the European Commission was proposing to set aside $1.2 billion to help make and distribute anti-virals and vaccines "in case of a pandemic."

He advised EU countries to administer the standard flu vaccine to vulnerable populations: people over age 65, young children, those with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory conditions and those living near the outbreak sites. There is no vaccine to protect against bird flu, but experts believe the standard flu vaccine could help.

Kyprianou urged EU nations to stockpile anti-viral drugs, saying: "It's the first line of defense."

Turkish authorities killed 7,600 domestic birds and disinfected 12 acres of land in the affected area, after 1,800 birds died on a farm there last week.

Turkey has asked the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG (search) for 1 million boxes of a standard flu medicine as a precaution, said a Health Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press. Each box contains 10 capsules.

Elsewhere, experts confirmed that a strain of the bird flu virus has been found in samples taken from dead birds in Romania's Danube Delta (search), the agriculture minister said Thursday.

The samples are being sent to Britain to identify the specific strain. So far there are no indications it is the H5N1 strain.

"We hope it's a low intensity virus," said Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur. "We are continuing measures to isolate the affected area."

The Interior Ministry has extended a quarantine in the village of Ceamurlia de Jos, where the infected fowl was found, to people. Only authorities are allowed to enter and exit the remote village, which is located in the east of the delta, close to the Black Sea (search).