Sunday, January 08, 2006

The bubbling Turkish cauldron

Two more children in the remote eastern city of Van, in Kurdish Turkey, are reported to be bird flu cases (according to the Turkish government). They are unrelated to the four cases in one family. It is also unclear if they are separate from the adult and child previously confirmed as cases in Van (via BBC) Cases are being reported by newsmedia, by the government and by WHO. All use different case criteria, which, together with the uncertainty of a rapidly developing situation, explains the confusion.

Even more worrisome are first reports of three new cases in central Turkey, in the capital Ankara, about 1000 km (600 miles) from the other cases. They are being treated in a hospital and the government reports they are "positive for bird flu." (Xinhuanet) Whether that will be confirmed remains to be seen. AFP says two are children from a town about 100 km northwest of Ankara

At this point it is hard to say if the situation is as ominous as these reports indicate. Even if this is bird to human, it seems to be happening with greater ease, and what everyone is worried about is that it has elements of human to human transmission. We await further information.

The Kurdish town of Van is indeed remote and it would be easy to take some solace from that. But it is just a few hundred miles north of Iraq where there is the desolation and disruption of war and 160,000 American troops that move about the country and internationally. War has always been the breeding ground par excellanceof epidemics. While it would be a Great Irony if the soldiers sent allegedly to "keep us safe" became themselves the victims and vectors of Nature's Bioterrorist, it would just be a tiresome repeat of much of history.

When will they ever learn?