Workers at a Pursat province eucalyptus plantation spread ten tons of chicken waste fertilizer. Cambodia has escaped the bird flu outbreak so far.
While Thailand and Vietnam scramble to control bird flu outbreaks, health authorities
are on high alert after discovering a logging company spreading poultry-waste fertilizer
over its plantation nurseries in Pursat province.
Megge Miller, the World Health Organization infectious diseases advisor to the Ministry
of Health, said they were concerned about the fertilizing practice at the Pheapimex
land concession in Ansar Chambok Commune, Krakor District, and were working closely
with the provincial health department to keep the company's activities under scrutiny.
"WHO is really taking this seriously. We are assuming the worst case scenario,"
Miller said. "There is very active surveillance around the area, and we are
trying to follow up daily with the provincial health department."
She said provincial health center staff are on the look out for any symptoms of avian
influenza virus, or bird flu (see inset page 2).
NGO forestry inspectors visited the land concession site mid-January and alerted
health authorities after noticing "tens of piles" of poultry waste being
spread around Pheapimex's eucalyptus plantation.
An International Food Safety Authority Network report said the avian influenza virus
survives for 30-35 days in poultry feces at four degrees Celsius, and up to six days
Wuzishan LS Group, which manages the Pheapimex concession, bought 10 tons of the
fecal and bird feather mixture from Kompong Chhnang province, said Suon Sophouen,
deputy director at the Department of Animal Health and Production.
He said there have been no reports of avian flu in the area. The last reported bird
flu outbreak was in Kien Svay district of Kandal province.
Workers at the Pursat land concession were becoming ill, but Sophouen said they have
been suffering from malaria, not bird flu.
He said the plantation is isolated, so communities were not at risk. The land concession
does, however, lie within 20 kilometers of the Tonle Sap Lake.
Martin Gilbert, of Wildlife Conservation Society said if there were an outbreak of
avian flu, there would be a potential risk for the large water birds resident on
the Tonle Sap, as well as a smaller risk for the number of migratory birds in the
"The Tonle Sap is the only wetland habitat for these species anywhere in Southeast
Asia. It is regionally important for some species and globally important for others,"
Migratory birds can carry the avian virus for long distances. They suffer only mild
symptoms, but then can spread the virus to domestic fowl via excretion.
Gilbert said that the greater risk in the Southeast Asian region is the movement
of live infected poultry from farm to farm. This includes country-to-country transmission
through the poultry international trade.
"Vehicles and equipment contaminated with feces have been shown to be one of
the main routes by which the virus spreads between farms in previous outbreaks,"
Cambodia sits precariously between Thailand and Vietnam; the only two countries worldwide
to record human deaths from the highly contageous strain of avian influenza A, H5N1.
The most recent human fatality was in Dong Thap, a province in Vietnam which borders
Cambodia, where a 35-year old woman died January 21.
According to WHO reports, 12 people have died in Thailand and 29 in Vietnam since
January 2004. Eleven of those recorded in Vietnam have occurred in the past six weeks.
No human cases of the disease have been reported in Cambodia.
Sophouen said there have been no reports of avian flu in Cambodia since the Kandal
province outbreak in September 2004.
The government imposed a ban on all poultry products from Thailand and Vietnam on
December 31, 2004.
In its 100-year history, the avian flu virus had confined itself to infecting poultry,
up until 1997, when six humans died in Hong Kong of H5N1.
The virus's jump in species from bird-to-bird transmission to a bird-to-human transmission
illustrates the aggressive H5N1 strain of the virus researchers say.
And WHO is alarmed at recent deaths reported in two "family clusters",
which may suggest a new human-to-human strain. Tests so far have proved negative,
but in both cases the first family member died and then shortly afterwards the family
members caring for them became infected.
According to WHO, if the virus detection in birds is acted upon quickly, by widespread
culling of the infected birds, it is easy to eradicate.
The avian flu can infect 90 to 100 percent of poultry in severe outbreaks, and Vietnam's
health authorities have acted promptly, culling 500,000 domestic birds so far this
Sophouen stressed that the Ministry of Health, WHO, Ministry of Agriculture and the
UN's Food and Agriculture Organization were liaising to prevent an avian flu outbreak
in the country.
"We have communication [between] teams at central departments right through
to village and farm levels. They are checking clinical signs of birds and also sampling
live birds," he said. "We are making sure we stop the flow of the virus."