HUNDREDS of ducks and chickens in Takeo province’s Pralay Meas village were destroyed on Wednesday in the first day of a cull that officials said was ordered to contain a newly confirmed outbreak of the H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu.
Kao Phal, director of the Animal Health and Reproduction Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), said that authorities killed about 710 ducks and 350 chickens in and around Pralay Meas village, located in Romenh commune, Koh Andeth district. The ministry’s bird flu containment protocol requires all farm fowl within a 5-kilometre radius of the outbreak zone to be destroyed.
“This disease is faster than a war,” Kao Phal said. “If you are exposed to the virus you can get infected, so we have to educate people about how to avoid getting sick.”
Experts have noted, however, that the strain of the virus in Takeo likely has little ability to infect humans.
Mao Nhorn, Romenh commune chief, said that local authorities “got the results of the test early Tuesday but tried to prevent word from spreading among the villagers”, who might have then spirited away the infected ducks in the night before culling teams could arrive on Wednesday. As an added precaution, authorities formed a perimeter around the village before starting the cull.
“Some people asked to burn the ducks themselves, but we told them the ducks needed to be given to officials,” Mao Nhorn said. “Others hesitated because they did not want their ducks to be killed, but after we educated them about bird flu, then they understood.”
Thai Ly, chief of domesticated animals at the Takeo province agriculture department, said that nearly 20,000 ducks had died and that 35,270 had fallen ill before the first specimens were sent for testing on January 31, and that an unspecified number had succumbed to the virus since then.
He said Wednesday’s cull was accompanied by the gathering of additional bird samples from around the affected village.
Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), said most ducks in the affected area were kept in small numbers by families who used them for household egg consumption and who would be able to replace the animals fairly easily.
However, he said the area also supported a significant number of commercial duck farms, also specialising in eggs. It is these farmers, he said, who would be hardest-hit by the cull.
“Right now there are no subsidies at all,” he said. “For me, I think they should receive some kind of support.”
Yang Saing Koma estimated that after a scenario such as a total bird flu cull, the average commercial duck farm could recover in six months.
Cambodia reported its first case of H5N1 in poultry in January 2004. There have been nine known human cases of bird flu in Cambodia, seven of them fatal.