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Villagers ‘unworried’ by animal-borne diseases

A man lies on a hospital bed next to a respirator at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in February after contracting the H1N1 virus. Photo supplied
A man lies on a hospital bed next to a respirator at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in February after contracting the H1N1 virus. Photo supplied

Villagers ‘unworried’ by animal-borne diseases

Exposure to animal-to-human diseases is common in rural Cambodian households, yet few villagers reported the threat of such diseases to be a concern, according to interviews of 300 households published in a Swedish study last month.

The study, published in the Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae journal on May 16, also found that awareness of transmission of animal-to-human diseases didn’t reduce the practices associated with exposure.

The new findings could help guide future interventions in prevention, detection and control, according to the study.

Avian influenza was known by 65 per cent of the households interviewed, but fewer than 5 per cent surveyed realised that swine influenza, tuberculosis and rabies could be passed from animals, according to the study.

But only 6 per cent of households thought it was likely for those types of disease to occur in their village.

The study’s authors said it was remarkable that “few of the households surveyed reported perceiving a threat of zoonoses [animal-to-human diseases]”.

“The [exposure] problem is there, but we don’t see an increase in [human infections],” Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann said yesterday. “The practices of our people are better, compared to before.”

Even though avian flu is prevalent in poultry, the last human avian flu case in Cambodia was in 2014. Cambodia has reported 42 avian influenza outbreaks among poultry but just 56 human cases since 2004, according to the study.

With the increase in global population and the need for more animals to meet consumption demands, these kinds of diseases are becoming more worrisome, Sovann said, especially as it’s also becoming more common for people to raise wild animals.

“The chance [of transmission] is more likely to increase globally, including in Cambodia,” he said. But for now, officials are mostly concerned about rabies. There’s an estimated 800 to 900 cases per year in the Kingdom, Sovann said.

“We need to vaccinate the dogs,” he said. The government is implementing a four-year strategy plan to eliminate rabies by 2020, Sovann said.

Sovann said the public needs to do its part by reporting sick or dead animals to the ministry immediately so officials can investigate and decontaminate to prevent further spreading.

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