In preparation for the lunar new year this month, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries have called for hygienic practices and sanitary inspections for the transportation of poultry and pigs to prevent the spread of any instances of bird flu.

Health minister Mam Bunheng issued a reminder to all people in Cambodia to protect themselves from contagious pathogens during the traditional gatherings.

“I would like to remind all people to be very careful about preventing the spread of bird flu. People should wash their hands frequently with soap and water before eating and after contact with poultry,” he said on January 29.

He added that people must not eat sick poultry or birds that died of illness and instead must avoid them and places where the virus is known to be circulating.

According to the health ministry, there are several strains of avian influenza that have circulated in the region, including H4N1, H5N6, H7N3, H7N7, H7N9 and H9N2 which are known to have infected humans. Outbreaks continue to occur periodically around the world, making bird flu a global public health concern.

Strains of bird flu viruses can be easily transmissible from animals to humans, and proper precautions are necessary to prevent infections when handling live poultry or butchered meat.

Bunheng also instructed provincial and local authorities to assign officials to monitor and guide hygienic practices and safety measures in markets, especially live-poultry ones.

“If someone is suspected of having been infected with bird flu or exhibits common symptoms such as fever over 38.5 degrees Celsius, coughing and shortness of breath, and has come in contact with sick or dead poultry during 14 days prior to showing symptoms, please call 115,” he said.

The agriculture ministry’s General Directorate of Animal Health and Production will distribute a circular from February 1 regarding improving hygiene in the transport of poultry and pigs during the lunar new year.

Director-general Tan Phannara told The Post that the transportation of animals across provinces and through the capital always increases during the lunar new year period, and the ministry steps up controls in response.

“We monitor animal health and bio security practices and spray disinfectant on vehicles used for transportation. We also implement strict practices related to the use of disinfectant at farms and conducting animal health inspections before transportation,” he said.

A group on social media platform Telegram was established to facilitate communication between expert officials in each province regarding inspections.

Phannara noted that there was not an ongoing outbreak of bird flu at this time and stressed the importance of proper hygienic procedures under all circumstances, particularly when butchering animals which should be done with gloves to prevent contamination.

The health ministry noted that the H5N1 strain was recently discovered in some birds in the country.

From 2005 to 2014, Cambodia recorded 56 cases of H5N1 infections in humans, leading to 37 deaths.