Two more children died from avian influenza yesterday, bringing the total to four deaths and five confirmed cases in the past month’s outbreak.
A two-year-old girl from Kampong Speu province, first confirmed on Saturday to be infected with the virus, and an eight-year-old girl from Kampot province had both died from H5N1 at Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Hospital yesterday, hospital officials confirmed last night.
In response to the spike in cases, the government had sent out a rapid response team and was ramping up surveillance and investigation of the virus as the World Health Organisation worked with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to control the movement of poultry, Sonny Krishnan, communications officer for the WHO in Cambodia, said.
“The National Committee on Information, Education and Communication is holding an emergency meeting tomorrow to increase radio and TV spots with preventative messages,” Krishnan said yesterday.
“We are insisting all chickens and eggs be well cooked, and that people wash their hands and don’t let children play with chickens and ducks.”
Krishnan noted that ducks, in particular, could be infected with the disease without showing symptoms for a very long time, “so when ducks die, it’s a serious situation”, as was the case in the Takeo province village of the 15-year-old girl who died from the virus last week.
Seng Thoung, the chief of Thmey commune in Kampot’s Teuk Chhou district, the home of the eight-year-old who died yesterday afternoon, said the girl had fallen ill about 10 days ago and was sent for treatment at the Kantha Bopha after local doctors and Kampot’s provincial hospital staff were unable to identify the disease.
The girl’s parents had kept a lot of chickens, most of which were sick, but they allowed the girl to play with the birds anyway, Thoung said.
“This is a new disease in our commune, so that’s why they did not worry much when they saw the sick chickens,” he said. He added that health and agriculture officials had killed and burned the chickens at the girl’s house, sprayed the village to kill the virus and told the villagers not to eat or touch sick or dead poultry, but instead to burn and bury them.
Officials also took samples of the neighbours’ birds to test them for the virus, he said.
Meanwhile, he said, the girl’s body was returned from Phnom Penh to the village for her funeral yesterday evening, which was attended by many villagers. “All the villagers who attended the girl’s funeral were distributed face masks to protect them,” he said.
A security guard at Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Hospital said the body of the two-year-old who succumbed to the virus there yesterday also had been sent home.
On Sunday, Kantha Bopha’s Dr Denis Laurent told the Post that the hospital’s staff was “looking every day” for suspected cases of the virus and frequently sent samples to Institut Pasteur to be tested for H5N1, although most samples came back negative.
Specific reasons for the increase in cases, compared with the three seen in all of 2012, are so far unclear, Krishnan said, though he noted that flu cases tend to rise during the colder parts of the year and that Cambodia was experiencing a “relatively cool spell”.
Health officials were working with the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge to understand the causes of the new outbreaks, he said.
He added that the spread of the virus would be of particular concern with the increased movement of people into Phnom Penh for the coming week’s funeral procession and cremation of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
“Poor people coming from the provinces normally bring their own food,” he said, noting that live poultry would be among the food they would bring.
A study to be published in the US medical journal Emerging Infectious Diseases in February links increased movement of poultry to a rise in contamination by avian flu and has found contamination in markets reached particularly high levels in the weeks before Khmer New Year, when movement of poultry across the country rose.
Of the 26 cases of H5N1 seen in Cambodia since the virus emerged in 2003, 17 have been children under 14, and Minister of Health Mam Bunheng has said that “children still seem to be most vulnerable”.
To contact the reporters on this story: Justine Drennan at [email protected]
Mom Kunthear at [email protected]