International and local health experts say a deadly new type of cholera now threatening
many countries in Asia could enter Cambodia at any time.
A warning issued by the World Health Organization's (WHO) regional office to its
representative in Phnom Penh warned about potential diarrhea epidemic caused by Vibrio
"We are all worried about the emergency, the coming of this cholera in Cambodia.
It is dangerous because people die of infection," said Dr. Jean Paul Menu, WHO
representative in Cambodia.
He added that the new cholera which carries the "Bengal" virus was originally
identified in Bangladesh from where it spread to India. The latest outbreak of the
disease was reported to have occured in southern China where tropical weather creates
the right conditions for existance of the virus. Vibrio cholera 0139 has reportedly
already entered Thailand, and possibly also Malaysia, but the representative was
unable to confirm this.
A major concern is a question whether the new disease can be treated like Vibrio
cholera 01 (or normal cholera), the bacteria of which exists mainly in contaminated
water and food. As Dr. Menu explained, patients of normal cholera can quickly recover
if they receive treatment with an appropriate antibiotic. Injection of Oral Rehydration
Salts is needed when bodies are found to be dehydrated because of severe diarrhea
Bacteria already present in humans quickly become resistant, defusing further infection
of the same strain of cholera. "You don't have to do much [to treat normal cholera],"
the doctor said.
"But in Cambodia this is not the case because doctors are not everywhere. Sometimes
they are not at work or don't know enough to treat cholera or patients live far away
from the clinic," Dr. Menu said.
Dr. Mean Chhi Vun from the National Center for Hygiene and Epidimiology said many
cases occured in Battambang and Pursat provinces, but were not recorded in national
figures because the victims could not be properly analyzed, due to the lack of medical
Fearing a possible epidemic of the new cholera, health experts are preparing an awareness
program for medical agencies and the general population.
Dr. Menu said the immunization process used to fight Vibrio cholera 01 is useless
against Vibrio cholera 0139 which can cause very severe diarrhea.
"We don't know what we are going to do when it comes," he said, adding
that the new cholera kills up to five percent of those infected, compared to one
percent who die from Vibrio cholera 01.
"For sure we will have many difficulties because we don't have means to figure
out the symptoms. If the disease starts to spread the result may be equal to death,"
said Dr. Mean Chhi Vun.