DOGUBAYAZIT, Turkey -- Local officials accused Turkey's government yesterday of moving too slowly to slaughter fowl when the bird flu was still confined to birds, and the number of people infected with the deadly H5N1 strain climbed to 18.
Mukkades Kubilay, the mayor of Dogubayazit -- where three siblings died a week ago -- contended that Ankara had sent in only three doctors and that there were not enough workers to destroy poultry.
''It's an extraordinary situation," she said. ''There aren't enough workers. We don't have enough technical people . . . We're trying to do it on our own."
National health and agriculture authorities rebutted allegations that they did too little, too late to contain the outbreak, which was discovered in poultry in December.
''Whoever says that we've responded too slowly has ill intentions," said Mine Tuncel, Health Ministry spokeswoman.
Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker asserted that there was no delay in responding to the first reports of infected birds on Dec. 15 and that the culling of poultry began immediately. ''The fight against this disease had been pursued through a clear and transparent policy," he said.
Questions about whether the government acted aggressively enough early in the outbreak emerged as officials tried to contain the disease, which Eker said had been confirmed in 11 of Turkey's 81 provinces and was suspected in 14 others.
European Union specialists also urged nations bordering Turkey to step up checks on any possible spread of the bird flu outbreak and to prepare measures to control the disease.
Turkish health authorities, meanwhile, raised the number of people infected with H5N1 from 15 to 18, after it turned up in preliminary tests on two people hospitalized in southeastern Turkey and in a lung of an 11-year-old girl who died last week in the same region. The girl was the sister of two teenagers who became the first fatalities outside East Asia, where the strain has killed 76 people since 2003.
Although three of the 18 people confirmed with the virus have died, several others are in stable condition or show few signs of illness, suggesting the virus may not be as deadly as had been believed. Previously, more than half of those confirmed to have contracted the disease died.
Eight-year-old Sumeyya Mamuk, who became infected with bird flu after embracing dying pet chickens, was released from a hospital in the eastern city of Van yesterday.
Health Minister Recep Akdag was optimistic. ''The EU and the world will see Turkey put its signature on a great success," he told the Cihan news agency. ''The fact that we have handled the affair from the onset with openness and determination is a clear indication."
The World Health Organization reported yesterday that a full genetic analysis of samples from Turkey had shown no meaningful changes to the DNA of the virus amid fears it could mutate into a strain easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic.
Most human infections have been linked to direct contact with sick poultry.