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)