She is a living beacon of hope amid Turkey’s battle with birdflu – Sumeyya Mamuk, 8, has survived a disease that has killed other children in her country.
Out of hospital and back with her family, Sumeyya is now being closely monitored. Comforting dying chickens exposed her to infection. But she, like others in the eastern city of Van, now knows more about the risks of close contact with birds.
The H5N1 virus has been found in wild birds and poultry across large parts of the country, particularly in poor villages stretching from Istanbul at the gates of Europe to Van near the Iranian and Iraqi borders.
Some 18 human cases of H5N1 bird flu infection have now been recorded in Turkey where three children have died.
The European Union has earmarked 80 million euros in aid to help countries deal with bird flu, ahead of an international donors’ conference to be held next week in China.
Meanwhile, World Health Organisation experts are working with Turkish officials to study the virus and its patterns of attack. But as the country continues its efforts to stem the spread – authorities say over 350,000 birds have been culled in the past two weeks – a British laboratory has noted a potentially disturbing genetic change.
In studying samples from Turkish victims, it has found a slightly mutated strain of H5N1. Although it does not seem to be more dangerous, the mutation could, in theory, help the virus pass more easily from chicken to human.
Of gravest concern is the possibility that the H5N1 virus could mutate so it would pass from human to human.