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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Swine flu scare hits Kingdom

Swine flu scare hits Kingdom

Three US visitors shared flight  with confirmed A(H1N1) case.

THE South Korean government issued an urgent letter Wednesday warning that three Cambodian-Americans who disembarked from an Asiana Airlines flight at Phnom Penh on Sunday shared an earlier flight with a woman who has since been confirmed with the A(H1N1) virus, also known as swine flu.

Dr Sok Touch, director of the Communicable Diseases Control Department at the Ministry of Health, said Thursday that authorities were currently looking for the three passengers.

In its letter, the Korean embassy stated: "The Embassy would like to advise the Ministry [of Health] to quarantine the passengers and take the required measures."

The initial Asiana Airlines flight - OZ217 from Seattle in the United States - terminated in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday and passengers transited to Asiana Airlines flight OZ739, which landed in Phnom Penh the same day. A Vietnamese woman complained of feeling unwell while transiting and was hospitalised in Incheon.

The first secretary of the Korean embassy in Phnom Penh, Jin Sun-hye, told the Post the patient was the only one of 93 passengers on Flight OZ217 to remain in South Korea. She said the woman was quarantined immediately and tested. It was confirmed on Tuesday that she was infected.

"All the other passengers went to other countries, so our government has informed the embassies in those countries," she said.

"The patient is still in hospital, but I have no information on her condition."

Sok  Touch said he was notified  of the case on Wednesday.

"I want to stress that there is no confirmation of the disease here - we are simply following up," he said.

"The infection rate is between 20 and 30 percent, which means not all people who sit nearby an infected person will get sick."

He said the three - two men and a woman - were believed to be in Kampot.

"We are monitoring, but there is no confirmation that the people who arrived that day have the disease," Sok Touch said. "If we find them, then we will test them."

He said he did not know whether any of the other passengers on the flight had been tested or what any results might have been.

Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist at the World Health Organisation in Cambodia, stressed that the potential threat is "really quite low".

"As far as we know, they have no symptoms ... and are completely healthy. At this stage, we are trying to find them," he told the Post.

‘Testing is key' - WHO

Asgari said the most important aspect was to test the three.

"We can do that test in-country," he said, explaining that the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh can turn around the results in less than 12 hours.

In the event that they tested positive, Asgari said Calmette Hospital is the main isolation centre, but a number of other hospitals also have facilities.

"Standard government practice is to isolate them [if they test positive], and then they will be assessed," he said, adding that if they still showed no symptoms seven days after exposure to the virus, there was a "very good chance" that they were not infected.

Asgari said the WHO had donated stocks of Tamiflu - the anti-viral medication used to combat the disease - to a number of countries.

"Cambodia is one of those countries," Dr Asgari said. "So there have been donations of Tamiflu, and if they are not already here, then they

will be here any day."

He added that the infection rate of between 20 percent and 30 percent was "approximately correct", based as it is on the modelling of current data.

A(H1N1) is a new flu virus that was first detected in April in Mexico. The latest WHO statistics show that it has infected 11,034 people worldwide and killed 85.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRISTOPHER SHAY

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