In Cambodia, Little Alarm About Bird Flu

As anxiety over avian influenza spreads across the globe—especially in Europe, where migrating birds from Romania to Sweden are being tested for the deadly H5N1 flu strain—physicians and health officials say the overall mood in Cambodia remains low-key.

“There was some alarm during the bird flu outbreak earlier this year, but since then the situation has been very calm,” said Dr Jean Baptiste Dufourcq, medical director at Calmette Hospital.

“It’s actually very different from when SARS hit a few years ago—there was a real panic here then,” he said.

Virologists say there is no evidence that the bird flu strain that has killed more than 60 people in the region, including four Cambo­di­ans, is making the genetic mu­tation that would allow it to be transmitted through a human pop­ulation.

Dr Eap Tek Chheng, a senior physician at the Naga Interna­tion­al Clinic, said that he believes the world community’s growing concern over bird flu sparking a pandemic is a likely a consequence of more sustained news coverage about the disease. “Only the media talk about this,” he said.

“Our Cambodian patients are not expressing any concern. Some patients from the European community say they want to get Tamiflu, and they talk about it at consultations,” he added.

But Eap Tek Chheng said the clinic has no Tamiflu—a medication that has been shown to offer some protection against bird flu—which he said is very difficult to obtain. Naga even recently ran out of its stock of the human influenza vaccine, but refreshed its supply a few days ago.

A doctor at the UN medication dispensary—who did not want her name disclosed—said that a seasonal flu vaccine campaign last weekend attracted roughly 70 percent of Phnom Penh’s UN staff members and their relatives.

“It’s part of the UN’s avian in­fluenza preparedness program,” she said. “Everyone was encouraged to receive the vaccines so that at least they are protected from the seasonal flu.”



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