Bird Flu Threatens Poultry Sales at New Year

Authorities continued their investigation of the latest human case of avian influenza Monday, as poultry vendors in Phnom Penh feared the latest case of bird flu would once again hit demand for chickens and ducks, just weeks before the Chi­nese New Year when they traditionally make their biggest sales.

Vendors interviewed in Phnom Penh said their sales had not yet been affected by the announcement Friday that a 19-year-old man from Kandal province was found to be in­fected with the H5N1 virus. But they ex­pressed concern about their business, which has been ad­ver­s­ely af­fected by the seven previous bird flu cases found in humans in Cam­bo­dia—all of which were fatal.

“My business went down for about a month after the bird flu first occurred in Cambodia but after that, it became normal again for Cambodians to buy chicken,” said Huy Say, who sells ducks and chick­ens at O’Russei market. He added that a similar pattern has repeated every time a bird flu case was revealed.

This latest case of bird flu has been declared very close to the Chi­nese New Year, Jan 26 to 28, the biggest days of the year for his business. Huy Say said he normally sells about 100 birds a day and doubles that number around the New Year holiday.

Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said Monday that people and animals in contact with the infected man were being tested and that no new infection had yet been found.

The man remains in stable condition at Calmette Hospital, said Dr Sok Touch, director of the Health Ministry’s communicable disease control department.

“Doctors are still investigating this case; his vitals are stable and he looks better than on Friday,” Sok Touch said.

O’Russei market director Kang Lak said he holds weekly meetings with poultry vendors about bird flu.

“I told them to take care of themselves” by wearing masks when handling poultry, Kang Lak said.

Plunging one dead duck after another in a tub of blood-stained water to pluck their feathers, Huy Say said he’d been told to wear a mask, gloves and rubber boots when working. He only wears them around market authorities, he said, because they slow work.

“I’m concerned about getting infected with bird flu, but this is my business; what can I do?”

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