Girl’s death from H5N1 virus triggers alarm bells in Cambodia

According to the authorities, the patient’s village is located near a protected area home to many species of birds, which have been dying recently at an uncommonly increased rate.


Officials post a sign which offers preventive measures against H5N1, in northern Prey Veng province’s Sithor Kandal district on February 23. moh

February 24, 2023

PHNOM PENH – The Ministry of Health is calling on the public to prevent the spread of the avian flu H5N1 after it was confirmed to have killed an 11-year-old in Prey Veng province.

In a February 23 statement, the ministry said the girl resided in Rolaing village in Sithor Kandal district’s Romlech commune. She died on February 22 after admission to the National Paediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh.

It said the girl became ill with a fever of 39 degree Celsius on February 16 along with coughing and sore throat. She received treatment in the village for three days without improving before being transferred to the paediatric hospital on February 21.

According to the ministry, the patient’s village is located near a protected area that is home to many species of birds which have been dying recently at an uncommonly increased rate. Specimens of the birds were taken for testing earlier this month but no results have been released yet.

Im Rachna, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that all 25 chicken and ducks at the girl’s home died. “Her home had 22 chicken and three ducks … But no one ate them; they were all burned.”

According to the health ministry, this is the first H5N1 case found in a human in the last nine years. The last case prior to this was the 57th found on March 14, 2014. Of the 57 cases, 45 were found in children under 14 years old.

Since the first case in 2005 in humans, 20 out of the patients died from the illness, putting the mortality rate for the virus in humans at just over 34 per cent.

No known human-to-human spread of the virus has ever occurred, it noted, and therefore it is more likely that the girl contracted the virus from her family’s livestock, which possibly contracted it from contact with a wild animal.

The response teams from the health ministry at the national and sub-national levels are investigating the case to trace the origin of the virus, along with educational measures in the communities.

Health minister Mam Bun Heng said children often play with livestock, regarding them as pets, which makes it easier for them to contract the virus.

“I call on all parents, caretakers and guardians to keep children away from livestock, no matter whether the animals are ill or not. Make sure that your children wash their hands with soap before eating or after touching livestock,” he said.

“If they are short of breath or have difficulty breathing, you need to bring them to get treatment immediately at the nearest clinic or hospital and report it to health officials, including any history of contact with live, dead or ill livestock,” he added.

According to the ministry, H5N1 is a flu virus that infects birds and can be transmitted from infected birds to other birds and rarely from birds to humans.

“Should it ever transmit from human-to-human, it could mutate to become a seasonal flu. Therefore, it is important that all cases be found, to prevent it from spreading to the community,” the ministry said.

Prey Veng provincial information department director Nhem Saokry said officials went down to the location to do more research and work in the field.

Agriculture ministry spokeswoman Rachna said that immediately after receiving information about the case, the ministry also dispatched officials to investigate and collect samples and take action to prevent any possible spread of the virus.

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