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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Health Ministry blames Pasteur Institute for Zika mistake

A health official uses an aspirator to collect mosquitoes in an effort to stem any outbreak of the Zika virus in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP
A health official uses an aspirator to collect mosquitoes in an effort to stem any outbreak of the Zika virus in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Health Ministry blames Pasteur Institute for Zika mistake

After social media users criticised the Ministry of Health for a Zika false alarm over the weekend, the ministry’s Department of Communicable Diseases pointed the finger at the Pasteur Institute for the misinformation.

The ministry and the World Health Organization on Friday issued a joint statement indicating the first Zika case in the Kingdom had been confirmed in a 44-year-old man from Kampong Cham. But early on Saturday morning, the ministry retracted its statement, saying the case was determined not to be Zika after further testing.

After some people took to social media to admonish the ministry to verify its information before making it public, the Department of Communicable Diseases maintained it wasn’t to blame.

“This is the fault of the Pasteur [Institute], which is a five-star lab service that did the work carelessly, which the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization depend entirely on,” reads a message posted by the department on its official Facebook page.

Ly Sovann, ministry spokesman and director of the Department of Communicable Diseases, declined to comment on the matter. Another ministry spokesperson didn’t return a request for comment.

Philippe Dussart, head of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute, declined to comment on being blamed for the inaccuracy, but said specific Zika blood tests were performed and came back positive.

However, when experts continued further investigation with a sequencing test to identify the origin of the virus, it came back negative. “It’s uncommon, but unfortunately it can happen, and unfortunately it happened this week,” he said. “It was a false positive.”

Meanwhile, Dussart maintained the risk of a Zika outbreak in Cambodia next year remained high because of the presence of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the country. “The risk is still there,” he said.

Friday’s case would have been the first in Cambodia amid a global outbreak that has spread to much of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam and, more recently, Myanmar.

According to the Health Ministry, the Kingdom saw seven Zika cases between 2007 and 2010, but hasn’t had one since. Dussart, however, maintained there was a case in 2015, but declined to discuss it.

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