The World Health Organisation said the victims appear to have contracted the virus directly from infected birds, allaying fears it was now passing dangerously from person to person.

The Turkish authorities said on Monday the 14 victims included three children from the same family in an impoverished region of eastern Turkey who died last week.

The first case of the H5N1 strain of bird flu was detected in October in the west of Turkey.

The WHO said it was now treating the cases announced by the Turks as confirmed.

Bird flu is known to have killed 74 people in East Asia since the latest outbreak emerged in late 2003. Human cases had been confined to that part of the world until the virus was identified in Turkey last week.

Other cases

China confirmed its eighth human infection from bird flu on Monday, the latest victim being a six-year-old boy from the central Hunan province who is being treated in hospital.

Indonesia said local tests showed a 39-year-old man had died from the virus earlier this month after contact with dead chickens. If confirmed, it would be the 12th death in Indonesia.

Diseased chickens are believed
to be behind infection in Turkey

Worried Turks rushed to hospitals on Monday for tests for the virus, which kills more than half of those it infects.

Experts fear the deadly H5N1 strain will mutate just enough to allow it to pass easily from person to person. If it does so, it could cause a catastrophic pandemic, killing tens of millions of people, because humans lack immunity to it.

However, a WHO team visiting Dogubayazit, the home village of the dead children, said the evidence there pointed to infection from diseased chickens.

"At the moment there is no element in this village indicating human to human transmission. It's typically similar to what we have seen so far (in Asia)," Guenael Rodier, heading the WHO's mission to Turkey and a specialist on communicable diseases, told Reuters Television.

Minister mobbed

Turkey's health minister was mobbed on Monday by residents of Dogubeyazit, who accuse the government of neglecting them because they are Kurds.

Accompanied by a WHO delegation, Recep Akdag tried to assure the area's majority Kurdish population that Ankara had not abandoned them.

Akdag prays with Zeki Kocyigit,
who lost three children to bird flu

The minister, surrounded by police officers separating him from the crowd, said the government was committed to building a new hospital in the town and would provide advice on protection from the disease.

The mood of the crowd was angry and some booed the minister, shouting: "We need doctors." Some said: "Go see our villages with the dead chickens, where no one dares to step."

While teams from the Turkish Agriculture Mministry have been in the eastern town of Dogubeyazit for several days collecting and slaughtering poultry, 80 villages in the area are still waiting for exterminators.

Mehmet Gultekin, a local Kurdish leader, said: "The authorities are not interested in us because we are Kurds."

While a Kurdish area, Dogubeyzit has not been a flashpoint for clashes between the Turkish army and the separatist rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which have centred mainly in southeast Turkey, nearer the border with Iraq.

Istanbul

Elsewhere in Turkey, bird flu cases are a growing cause for concern. Thirteen children were among 23 people undergoing tests in Istanbul, a teeming city of 12 million which is the country's commercial hub and the gateway to Europe from Asia.

A total of 21 people have been hospitalised with suspected bird flu, raising concerns it had spread to Istanbul.

There are only four doctors at
the Dogubayazit hospital

The health authorities expect to receive test results on the 21 on Monday, the Milliyet daily said.

Mehmet Bakar, Istanbul's deputy health director, said initial tests on two dead chickens in the Kucukcekmece district indicated that they were infected by the bird flu virus, the reports said.

A third test was being carried out to confirm the diagnosis.

"Twenty-one people under suspicion [of having bird flu] have been kept in hospital under observation. Samples have been taken from these people and sent to the laboratory for examination," Bakar was quoted as saying by the Star newspaper.