Provincial health officials yesterday cited the extended hot season and dry weather as factors in the spike in reported cases of acute watery diarrhea. However, it remained unclear if there was any link between the illness and atmospheric temperatures.
An outbreak this month in Kompong Cham province caused 252 infections and two deaths. In Ratanakkiri province, outbreaks have caused 530 infections and 15 deaths since April 10. In late March, at least 266 people were infected and five killed in Kratie province.
Hoy Vannara, deputy director for Ratanakkiri’s provincial health department; Keang Hong, deputy chief of Kratie provincial hospital; and Kim Souphirun, director of Kompong Cham provincial health department, said the high number of cases were due to the hot weather and lack of sanitation.
“This year, as I have observed, the situation is worse due to the hot weather. It used to be cool about now,” Mr Vannara said.
Jan Willem Rosenboom, Cambodia team leader for the NGO Water and Sanitation Program, said there are often seasonal outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea when the weather is dry, adding that rainfall played a greater role than seasonal temperature changes.
“As the dry season progresses the number of people who rely on surface [drinking] water increases and this is more contaminated. Therefore there is a higher risk,” Mr Rosenboom said. “This is coupled with the fact that few people have toilets. So waste enters the environment.”
Nima Asgari, public health specialist at the World Health Organization, said the number of acute watery diarrhea cases had risen this year, but he did not know why.
“It’s a mixed bag,” he said of potential causes, noting that the increased reporting could be due to increased surveillance by health officials.
Acute watery diarrhea is endemic in the region and is caused by multiple factors depending on the viruses present and sanitation levels, he said. The weather is one speculative explanation given the dry season has lasted a bit longer than usual so people are using contaminated water, Dr Asgari said.