Little H5N1 Awareness Among Poultry Owners

Phann Phea grabbed the rooster, tucked into a cement bag on the back of his motorbike, as it struggled to escape. 

Just four hours before, Mr. Phea, 20, had purchased the rooster in Takeo—the province where two of five avian influenza, or H5N1, deaths have occurred this year. On Thursday, a 5-year-old girl became the latest victim of the disease.

“I bought this new one because I need to restock to breed chickens, because in the past two weeks my 10 chickens and roosters all died,” he explained, parked on the side of National Road 5 in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district.

Although Phnom Penh’s animal health department said last week that it was controlling all live poultry movement from the provinces to Phnom Penh in an attempt to prevent the H5N1 virus from spreading further, Mr. Phea said that no one had stopped him as he brought his new rooster into Phnom Penh.

“Maybe my chickens died because of a disease, but maybe it was only the heat, so I didn’t report it,” he said, shrugging his shoulders before continuing on his journey.

Residents of Koh Dach commune in Russei Keo district said yesterday that they knew little about the H5N1 outbreak—which the World Health Organization (WHO) has partly attributed to an increased movement of live poultry for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

“I don’t need to take any precautions,” said Sen Sophoan, 50, who owns two ducks and four chickens.

“We will keep eating and preparing the chicken the way we are used to,” she added, as she chopped up an uncooked chicken and cleaned the dishes in the leftover water.

The total of six confirmed infections in humans since January 21 all originated in backyard poultry like Ms. Sophoan’s, according to the WHO. But convincing poor farmers to take precautions has been difficult.

“For these poor people, the poultry they keep is an important income and a source of protein, and telling them to take precautions is definitely a challenge,” WHO communication officer Sonny Krishnan said yesterday.

Ideally, he said, all live poultry should be kept at least 10 to 20 meters from the house, information the government is broadcasting on TV and radio. In Koh Dach, however, most families’ free-range poultry live in close proximity to them.

Another resident of the commune, Chhavy Phally, 28, who has 30 chickens, said she had seen one of the broadcast warnings. “But I forgot what they said,” she laughed.

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