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Homeland Security

Cambodian bird flu deaths prompt awareness drive

PHNOM PENH, 28 January 2013 (IRIN) - Health authorities in Cambodia will bolster public awareness campaigns on H5N1 avian influenza after four people became infected in January, resulting in two fatalities.

“Ongoing public awareness campaigns need to be reinforced through TV and radio,” Sok Touch, director of Cambodia’s Communicable Disease Control Department (CDC), told IRIN on 28 January, calling on people to be vigilant. “We’re planning on doing this immediately as there is no room for complacency.”

The four cases of H5N1 avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, are the first confirmed in Cambodia this year. There were three recorded cases (all fatal) in 2012.

Since 2005, 24 people have been infected resulting in 21 deaths, according to WHO, with over half of the infections in children under 14.

According to a joint statement from the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization (WHO) on 25 January, an eight-month-old boy from the capital Phnom Penh recovered after being infected with bird flu, while a 15-year-old girl from southwestern Takeo Province and a 35-year-old man from southwestern Kampong Speu Province died after contracting the virus.

The CDC said the boy had contact with chickens at a market, but the girl from Takeo and the man from Kampong Speu both fell ill after cooking dead chickens gathered from their villages.

A fourth case, also in Kampong Speu, was confirmed by the Ministry of Health on 27 January, when a 17-month-old girl tested positive for H5N1.

“We are working closely with the Ministry of Health to enhance surveillance of H5N1,” said Sonny Krishnan, communications officer with WHO in Phnom Penh, adding that WHO did not know yet if there was a link between the cases of the girl and 35-year-old man.

“We just did a map of the two communes and they’re not far from each other, so there could be an indication of a movement of poultry," Krishnan said.

Philippe Buchy, head of virology at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, said the best way to avoid further infections was to contain infected poultry, which is complicated in Cambodia.

“The country is large, there is not the surveillance required; a lot of resources [that are needed]... are not available to monitor clearly the poultry deaths everywhere, especially in a country where most of the production is backyard,” he said.

An earlier report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicated that chickens are kept by 90-95 percent of rural households, providing an important source of protein and livelihoods for millions.

According to WHO, since 2003, there have been 613 laboratory confirmed cases of H5N1 with 362 related deaths worldwide.


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