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Russia warns against travel to Turkey, Iran closes border

Russians should avoid travelling to Turkey after seven confirmed cases of bird flu, the chief state epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko said on Sunday // .

Turkey is the sixth country where the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has jumped from poultry to people, the first human infections outside eastern Asia.

"I earnestly advise Russian citizens to refrain from travelling to Turkey, especially to the eastern province of Agri and the city of Dogubayazit where the situation is particularly alarming," Gennady Onishchenko said.

Turkey is a popular tourist destination for sun-seeking Russians. It is much easier for Russians to get an entry visa for Turkey than, for example, for Spain or Italy.

Despite the reports, Russia's Federal Tourism Agency said it had no immediate plans to issue a travel warning because the bird flu was not concentrated in tourist areas.

"For the time being it is not worth asking Russian tourists to refrain from trips to Turkey," a spokesman told Interfax.

Russia battled with its own outbreak of bird flu last year. Onishchenko has previously warned that although the virus seemed to be dying out, migratory birds could bring it back to Russia in the spring of 2006.

Hundreds of thousands of birds were culled but no human cases were reported.

Meanwhile, Iran closed its Turkish border crossing on Sunday, and statements from a senior Russian health official were made on Sunday advising holiday-makers against travel to Turkey, since the bird flu has now spread to the capital city of Ankara.

A team of experts are due to arrive in Dogubeyazit today, in order to examine the outbreak and understand how the virus is spreading, to help the Turkish government in containing the virus, which seems to be an uphill struggle as only 50 workers have been employed to collect all birds from the region for culling.

With seven cases of the H5N1 strain confirmed in Turkey, Ir an began restricting movements across its border with Turkey.

But other experts have cautioned that there was no indication that holidaymakers would be at risk from human-to-human transmission of the disease.


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