Anthrax Attacks Extremely Unlikely Here, Officials Say

By Brian Calvert

the cambodia daily

To prepare for the highly unlikely event of a deliberate anthrax attack in Cambodia, the Minister of Health met Wednes­day with health experts while the Minister of Posts and Telecom­mun­ications issued a directive to his staff concerning the handling of suspicious mail.

“We don’t want to alarm people,” Minister of Health Hong Sun Huot said Thursday. But to be prudent, he ordered the formation of a working group in case an incident of direct exposure occurred.

Anthrax, an infectious disease that can be fatal to humans, does exist in its natural form in Cam­bo­dian livestock, but the risk to humans is very low. “This we can con­trol easily,” Hong Sun Huot said.

Health officials reached Thurs­day all agreed the likelihood of a direct attack of weapon­ized an­thrax was highly unlikely.

“[Still], we do need to be more careful with the handling of mail and be ready to deal with contamination, should it occur,” said Bill Pigott, country representative for the World Health Organ­ization.

Cambodia experienced an outbreak of natural anthrax in 1998, “but they were able to control it,” Pigott said. He noted the Pasteur Institute has the capacity to test both people and suspect packages for the disease.

“Anthrax is well-known in Cambodia. It has always been here,” said Yves Buisson, director of the Pasteur Institute. The naturally occurring disease can be easily handled, he said.

The disease can be contracted either through cuts in the skin, through ingestion of contaminated meat—as was the case in Cam­bodia’s 1998 outbreak in Kom­pong Speu—or it can be inhaled.

Posts and Telecommunications Minister So Khun said Thursday he had already instituted measures to prevent an unlikely attack of anthrax through the mail.

“One is for the customer: to put both the sending and receiving address on the letter [or package],” he said. “And for the staff: how to be careful with the packages.”

(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)

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