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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Swine flu tests are negative

Swine flu tests are negative

Three tourists exposed on plane to influenza A(H1N1) not infected.

THREE Cambodian-Americans who shared a flight with a woman confirmed to have been infected with influenza A(H1N1), commonly known as swine flu, have been located by the Ministry of Health and tested negative for the virus, Dr Sok Touch, director of the Communicable Diseases Control Department, said Sunday.

"There are still no confirmed cases of the A(H1N1) in Cambodia," he told the Post.

Sok Touch credited new health declaration forms at the airport for being able to rapidly locate two of the three passengers.

He said that increased monitoring at the country's points of entry has proven to be an effective tool in preventing the introduction of the swine flu virus.

The World Health Organisation, however, has expressed doubts over the use of health declaration forms and thermal imaging scanning to slow the spread of the flu.

"The World Health Organisation, on a global scale, has said that airport measures aren't effective at stopping influenza. [The virus] spreads fairly quickly and easily, and there could be people who have no symptoms," Michael O'Leary, Cambodia's WHO representative, said on Sunday.

At the moment, O'Leary said, the symptoms of H1N1 are "generally mild, like normal influenza", emphasising that "this is not a panic situation".

But he added that the influenza virus is unpredictable, and in the past, a more deadly second wave of the virus has hit a few months later.

"And because it's a new virus, everyone in the world is susceptible," he said.

 Since last month, all passengers from international flights have been required to fill out a health declaration form on the plane and receive a yellow health notice when they turn it in, warning them about the A(H1N1) influenza virus and giving them phone numbers if they develop flulike symptoms, Sok Touch said.

Colum Murphy, author of

Flu Action Plan: A Business Survival Guide, said, "Anything that helps to identify early cases and psychologically reassure people is worth considering."

But he said strategies that are executed only to ease people's minds will not be successful.

"There's no point in health declaration forms if they are just going to pile up unread," he said, "There really has to be an appropriate sense of urgency that's communicated to the front line implementers."

Passengers from Sunday's AirAsia flight 274 to Phnom Penh from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, were impressed by steps taken by the Cambodian government and said the airport officials looked carefully at their health declaration forms before letting them into the country.

If tourists do not know what their physical address in Cambodia will be, they are encouraged to write down their email address, according to one passenger who arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday.

Tourists feel safer

David Khem, a Malaysian tourist from flight 274, said the health monitoring in Phnom Penh was tighter than it was in Malaysia. Olga Makarewicz, a Polish tourist, told the Post, "It is good that they make people aware [of A(H1N1)] and remind them."

A joint statement from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation on Sunday told the public to cover their coughs, sneeze with a tissue, wash their hands and refrain from spitting in public.

Murphy said, "There's a chance of feeling overwhelmed, but it's not so bleak, the simple things are the most effective", emphasising frequent communication about the virus and personal hygiene.

The latest WHO statistics show that 43 countries have reported 12,022 confirmed cases of the virus, with 86 deaths.



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