Minister of Health Hong Sun Huot urged Cambodians on Wednesday to not eat chicken and other poultry products in order to prevent the spread of avian influenza to humans.
“I would like to appeal to citizens: Do not eat poultry,” the minister said at Phnom Penh International Airport as he prepared to depart for Bangkok, where regional officials are holding an emergency meeting to devise ways to prevent the spread of the bird flu epidemic.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun is also attending the meeting.
World Health Organization epidemiologist Sean Tobin said Hong Sun Huot’s comments are “contrary to our advice.”
“The only way [bird flu] is being spread is through contact with animals,” Tobin said. Proper cooking kills the disease, he added.
Hong Sun Huot also urged people to keep children away from poultry farms, since children have more susceptible immune systems than adults.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen complimented government officials for their efforts to curb the spread of bird flu. People would have blamed government officials if the disease started in Cambodia, he said.
“[Those people] are praying for more chickens and human beings to die here, so they can say we are incompetent,” he said in Kompong Cham province.
The bird flu has ravaged the poultry industry in several Asian countries and killed at least 10 people. Cambodia’s first confirmed non-human case of bird
flu was found Friday on a small farm in a village north of Phnom Penh.
Six Cambodians tested negative for the disease earlier this week. No others were tested on Wednesday, Tobin said.
Bird flu test results for samples taken from poultry at farms in Phnom Penh and Kandal province had not been returned from France on Wednesday, and no new samples were sent Wednesday, Ministry of Agriculture Deputy Director-General San Vanty said.
Poultry sales continued Wednesday at Phsar Kandal and outside Phsar O’Russei.
Earlier this week, Phsar O’Russei officials ordered all 26 chicken vendors to move outside of the three-story complex, said Beng Hong, 32, who has sold chickens for 15 years.
Before the flu broke out, she sold 300 kg of chickens per day. Now she sells 3 to 4 kg, she said Wednesday.
“I depend on this career to live,” she said.
Now she must apply and pay for a certification that states the new chickens she buys are disease-free. She said she is not worried her chickens will spread the disease, and she blamed local newspapers and authorities for worrying people about the disease.
Poor sales have whittled the vendors at Phsar Kandal down to one from about a dozen, said Sok Meline, 32. But she said Wednesday would be her last day selling the chickens she buys from Kompong Chhnang province.
Also on Wednesday, Japan included Cambodia in its ban of imports from countries where bird flu has been found, Reuters news agency reported.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)