Sample tissue from ducks in Takeo province that died in an outbreak of a disease officials could not identify earlier this week have tested positive for the H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu, officials at the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said Tuesday.
In light of the test result, officials said they will move ahead with Monday’s order from the provincial agriculture department to destroy all live ducks and halt duck meat sales in the affected area. Since the outbreak began last month, 16,442 ducks have died and at least 31,000 live ducks are exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
Ly Sovann, deputy director of the Communicable Diseases Control Department at the Ministry of Health, confirmed the positive test result on Tuesday and related the contents of an unreleased statement from the Agriculture Ministry.
“The statement identified the bird flu-affected area as Pralay village, Romenh commune, Koh Andeth district. All ducks within 5 kilometres of the village will be incinerated, sales of duck meat will be stopped and local officials within 10 kilometres of the area must monitor both ducks and humans for signs of infection,” Ly Sovann said.
The bird flu outbreaks always occur around this period of time.
Hong Narith, cabinet director of the Agriculture Ministry, also confirmed the release of a ministry press release, but declined to comment further in advance of the statement’s release.
While the farmers of Romenh commune may face financial hardship as a result of the cull, Dr Phillipe Buchy, director of the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh, said that isolated outbreaks were now a yearly occurrence, and that the threat of a larger-scale outbreak was low.
“These [bird flu] outbreaks always occur during this period of time, around Vietnamese and Chinese New Year celebrations. This is because there is an increased traffic in poultry, though we’re not sure if this is the only reason,” he said. “Since 2004 we have had cases every year.”
Buchy said it was too soon to comment on the threat of the H5N1 strain in Takeo, but said the strain responsible for the December 2009 bird flu outbreak in Kampong Cham province showed no signs of mutation from the most common form of the virus, which has very little ability to infect humans.
Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist for the World Health Organisation in Cambodia, said that investigators from the Ministry of Health had begun screening people in the affected district for signs of infection, and that “nobody seemed to be sick.” Nonetheless, Asgari said that anyone handling ducks or duck meat, particularly the health officials tasked with destroying the ducks, should still follow standard precautions.
“They should wear a proper mask and gloves, and wash their hands with soap and water,” he said, adding that people cooking duck meat should also wash their hands with soap and water and make sure that the meat is cooked thoroughly to eliminate the slight risk of transmission from consuming infected meat.
Cambodia reported its first case of H5N1 in poultry in January 2004. Four human cases of bird flu were reported in Cambodia between February and May of 2005, all of them fatal. There have been nine known cases of bird flu in Cambodia. Two of them, including the case of a Kampong Cham man diagnosed in December, have been non-lethal.