Influenza B Behind Spike in Respiratory Illnesses

Health researchers have identified Influenza B, a human flu strain, as the cause of an unusually high num­ber of respiratory illness re­ported in June among children in the country.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Or­gani­zation reported in a joint news re­lease that the sharp increase in acute respiratory infections this month was due to an “influenza-like illness.”

The analysis of samples collected at Phnom Penh’s pediatric hospitals a week ago ruled out bird flu and identified the culprit as Influen­za B, said WHO epidemiologist Megge Miller.

Respiratory infections and flu out­breaks are common worldwide. In developed countries, outbreaks are often seen in child-care centers and nursing homes, said Mil­ler. Evidence suggests that in Cam­bodia this outbreak has been limited to children, she said.

Respiratory infections are nothing new to Cambodia, said Beat Rich­ner, director of the Kantha Bop­ha hospitals in Phnom Penh and Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap. But what is unusual this year is that the outbreak peak­ed in June, he said.

As a rule, the number of cases goes up at the beginning of the rainy and dry seasons, said Miller. Re­searchers’ next challenge will be to determine what’s prompted an out­break at this time of year, she said.

For most children, Influenza B is a benign illness, said Richner. At his three hospitals this month, about 1,600 children may have shown some symptoms of flu, such as coughing, although this can­’t be determined with certainty, he said.

Influenza B, however, can turn serious in children with dormant tu­­ber­culosis—a common occur­ren­ce in Cambodia—and provoke pneumonia, which might have happened for some of his hospitals’ 450 pneumonia patients, Richner said.

Samreth Sovann, deputy director of the National Pediatrics Hos­pital, believes that the number of daily cases of respiratory infections jumped to 120 this June compared to 75 in June 2004.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)

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