Watery diarrhea has killed six people and hospitalized more than 50 others in Ratanakkiri province since April 10, Hoy Vannara, deputy director of the provincial department of health, said on Friday.
Two deaths and 31 cases were reported in O’Chum district starting with a 55-year-old Krueng minority man who died from the effects of severe diarrhea after drinking contaminated water on April 10.
“When the old man died, [the villagers] celebrated the funeral by killing a buffalo and drinking from a communal jar of wine filled with unboiled water,” Mr Vannara said. “After they drank the water, 20 people became sick.”
On April 14, a day after the funeral, a 30-year-old man who attended the funeral and was a neighbor of the first victim also died from watery diarrhea, he added.
“All of the people who died were not sent to the hospital but for the others who did go the hospital, they all recovered,” Mr Vannara said.
Mr Vannara said the O’Chum incident follows three deaths due to watery diarrhea in Voeun Sai district on April 10. After further investigation authorities have declared a fourth death in the district of a man who died the same day from watery diarrhea and not malaria as first thought, he added.
In total, there have been 25 cases of watery diarrhea reported in Voeun Sai district this week but Mr Vannara said the situation is under control and there were no new cases on Friday. Of the 56 cases, 19 were deemed serious and were sent to the provincial hospital, he said.
Patient samples have been sent to the Ministry of Health’s communicable disease control department but the results are not ready yet.
“It is watery diarrhea that is caused by bacteria but we don’t know the name of it,” Mr Vannara said.
Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist with the World Health Organization in Cambodia, said on Friday that watery diarrhea can spread over an area in a number of ways, though mainly via river routes or humans traveling with the illness from one area to another.
“Since watery diarrhea is fecal oral, if there is bad hygiene, it can contaminate a water source,” Dr Asgari said.
He added that minorities are at greater risk to illness because they receive less information from health departments, are usually quite poor and opt to not go to the hospital or seek medical care. There are also linguistic barriers when trying to inform them about safe drinking practices, he said.
“They tend to have more diseases than the rest of the population,” he added.