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Betel nut use linked to HIV


Regular users of betel nut quid – a combination of tobacco, areca nut, betel leaf and slaked lime that is chewed – could be more susceptible to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, dengue fever and typhoid, according to a press release issued by the World Health Organisation alongside a new study yesterday.

Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Chea Eam, 64, chews betel nut yesterday in Kandal province.

The new research conducted by the WHO and US-based Loma Linda University and published in the International Journal of Infectious Disease examined the association between betel nut and infectious disease in users.

“Findings from this study raise the possibility that using betel nut quid increases the risk for transmission of infectious disease through various pathways, such as suppression of the immune system, or by providing an oral route of entry for disease pathogens,” a press release accompanying the study said.

The results among betel nut users indicated that they were 2.6 times more likely to report a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS compared to non-betel nut users, 2.4 times more likely to have had dengue fever, 1.5 times more likely to report a diagnosis of tuberculosis and 1.48 times more likely to have had typhoid.

This led researchers to determine a “strong association between betel quid use and infectious disease”.

“These associations were found to be stronger among women, who are the primary users of betel nut quid in Cambodia,” the press release read.

Women often started using betel nut during pregnancy to stem the symptoms of morning sickness the study found.

The study used data from the National Adult Tobacco Survey of Cambodia from 2005-06, which involved interviews with 13,988 adults nationwide.

National Professional Officer for Tobacco Free Initiative and Health Promotion at the WHO, Yel Daravuth, who also co-authored the study, said it provided another strong case to fight tobacco use.

“If we help people to stop chewing tobacco, we also help [to] prevent people from getting infectious disease,” he said.

The NATSC 2011 found that more than half a million women chew betel nut.

Chea Eam, 64, from Kandal province who works as  farmer, said she could not stop chewing betel nut even though she was told she had cancer and kidney stones by her doctor four months ago.

“I have reduced the amount of betel nut I chew because I suffer from serious stomach aches, but I think that my illness is not caused by chewing betel nut,” she said.

Representatives from the Health Ministry were not available for comment.



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