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Journalists guide to bird flu translated into Khmer

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A handbook of information about a potential influenza pandemic has been

translated into Khmer and copies are set to be distributed to Cambodian print

journalists and broadcasters by the end of January, according to Dr Megge

Miller, of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Miller, epidemiologist in

charge of communicable disease surveillance and response at WHO in Phnom Penh,

said journalists play a crucial role in conveying to the public information from

the government and organizations like WHO.

The book will help

journalists understand more about terminology relating to an influenza pandemic,

help them avoid using words that are not accurate and scare people and

standardize the knowledge of journalists worldwide on reporting an influenza

pandemic, Miller said.

The handbook will explain influenza basics: what

the difference is between avian influenza (bird flu) and the feared pandemic

influenza, the history of past influenza pandemics in the 20th century,

information about antiviral drug treatments and preventive vaccines, the

progressive phases of a pandemic, and how to prepare a society for an influenza

pandemic.

Miller said the handbook WHO is providing in Khmer to

journalists is being similarly distributed to journalists around the world and

is also on the website http://www.who.int/mediacentre/en/ and directly on
http://www. who.int/csr/don/Handbook_ influenza_pandemic_ dec05.pdf.

"[In

Cambodia] we will provide handbooks to as many journalists and broadcasters as

possible, because Cambodia is also one of the countries facing avian influenza,"

Miller said.

In an 18-month period until April 2005 bird flu broke out

at 16 places in six provinces and killed four Cambodians in Kampot province;

49,359 chickens died including 10,438 that were killed, 3,193 ducks died and

another 739 ducks were killed, said Yim Voeunthan, secretary of state at the

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) according to his report.

"Today [bird flu] seems to be no problem in Cambodia," Voeunthan said.

"However, we are still worried because it has happened for a long time

throughout the world."

According to the handbook issued by WHO,

influenza pandemics have typically occurred every 10-to-50 years throughout

recorded history. In the 20th century, there were three pandemics: the 1918

pandemic caused the deaths of about 40 million people, and pandemic in 1957

caused more than two million deaths and another in 1968 about one million.

The first documented human infections of H5N1 bird flu occurred in 1997

in Hong Kong, when the virus caused severe respiratory disease in 18 humans, of

whom six died.

In February 2003, an outbreak of H5N1 in Hong Kong may

have caused three cases and two deaths in members of a family who had recently

traveled to southern China.

Three other bird flu viruses have caused

illness in humans in recent years. An outbreak of H7N7 in the Netherlands in

February 2003 caused mild illness in 89 people and one death. Two mild cases of

H9N2 in children occurred in Hong Kong in 1999 and another in December 2003.

H7N3 caused mild conjunctivitis in two people in Canada in 2004.

The

latest outbreaks of bird flu in birds began in late 2003. Between December 2003

and October 2005, more than 100 human cases of bird flu and more than 60 deaths,

caused by the H5N1 strain, had been detected in Cambodia, China, Indonesia,

Thailand and Vietnam, the handbook states.

Lately the H5N1 bird flu

virus has spread west to Turkey.

The handbook explains that influenza is

caused by a virus that primarily attacks the upper respiratory tract - the nose,

throat and sometimes the lungs.

Infection usually lasts for about one

week. It is characterized by high fever, headache, malaise, cough and sore

throat. Annual influenza epidemics attack from 5 to 15 percent of the

population, causing approximately three to five million cases worldwide,

including 250,000 to 500,000 deaths (mostly in the elderly).

"Being

skeptical about official statements, although often justified, is not enough,"

the handbook says, explaining the critical need for informed journalism.

"Equally necessary is the ability to discriminate between statements that are

based on sound information and those that are not.

"Even the WHO's

'official' figure of up to 7.4 million deaths world-wide smacks of spurious

accuracy, given the many uncertainties that continue to exist about the exact

size of the bird flu threat to humans."

Miller said besides providing

handbooks, her organization also plans to train Cambodian journalists on the

nature of a flu pandemic in the next few months.

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