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Mondulkiri deaths blamed on flu strain

THREE ethnic Phnong villagers in Mondulkiri province have succumbed to what health officials believe is a strain of flu, though village residents claim the anger of ancestral spirits is to blame.

Lek Sovannarath, chief of the communicable diseases control bureau at the provincial health department, said two children and one man who was “around 50 years old” died on Saturday, and that five others had since been sent to hospital after experiencing symptoms such as fever, cough, headache, vomiting and diarrhoea.

He said provincial health officials would run tests on the five who had been hospitalised, but he emphasised that the illness was likely a standard strain of flu that was easily treatable.

However, Phon Bun Sok, 24, a resident of Porpet village in Pich Chreada district, where the deaths occurred, said village elders believed they had been caused by spirits that had been angered when a woman who had recently given birth went out to take a bath.

“It is a belief. A woman who has just delivered a baby must abstain from going out to take a bath. She must bathe at home and stay at home for up to three months,” he said. “If we break this rule, the spirits will break us or make us have stomachaches or get another illness.”

Regardless of the cause of the deaths, Lek Sovannarath said he was confident the situation in the village was improving.

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