The government health official in charge of monitoring possible outbreaks of avian influenza said on Sunday that a Cambodian woman being treated in Vietnam’s Kien Giang provincial hospital may be infected with the deadly virus. Other government officials, however, were quick to point out that there are still no reported cases of domestic fowl sickened by the disease in Cambodia.
On Sunday night, Ly Sovann, chief of the Ministry of Health’s Disease Surveillance Bureau, was waiting to find out from Vietnam’s health ministry whether the 25-year-old from Koh Kong province tested positive for bird flu.
“She is still in the hospital,” Ly Sovann said. “We do not yet have an official reply from the [World Health Organization] or Vietnamese health officials. We are waiting.”
Ly Sovann said that the Health Ministry was still investigating which commune in Koh Kong the woman lived in and did not know why she was in Vietnam. “As you know in Cambodia when someone is sick they often want to go to Vietnam,” he said. “We cannot confirm yet that she was sick first or why she is in Vietnam.”
If confirmed, the woman would be the first Cambodian to have contracted the H5N1 influenza virus. The virus, which is transmitted from wild birds to domestic fowl to humans, broke out in Vietnam and Thailand at the end of last year.
Eleven Vietnamese have died in the last month from the disease. The last reported outbreak of the disease among Cambodian birds was in Kandal province in September when 2,330 chickens were culled on a Veal Spov commune farm. During an outbreak from February to April of 2004, nearly 10,000 birds were culled nationwide and a WHO epidemiologist working with the government criticized the accuracy of its provincial detection system.
Lim Kaing Eang, director of the health department in Kampot province, which borders Vietnam, said Sunday that he does not think the Cambodian woman in Vietnam has bird flu.
“There is no bird flu in Kampot,” he said. But he said that he will travel across the border on Tuesday to discuss disease control with the director of Vietnam’s Kien Giang provincial health department.
Suon Sothoeun, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Animal Health and Production said Sunday that he was unaware of the case of the woman in Vietnam. He said that all provinces report to him daily after investigating any suspicious poultry deaths, and to date there have been no cases of bird flu.
“Everyday any poultry death must be reported in,” he said.
If the woman is confirmed to have the disease, agriculture investigators will go immediately to the area in Koh Kong from which she hails.
“If it is confirmed that she has gotten bird flu in Koh Kong, our first course of action will be to quarantine the area, to disinfect it and to begin culling the infected birds,” he said. “It will be forbidden to enter or leave a 3-km radius.”
Suon Sothoeun said that last week the agriculture ministry investigated reports by the NGO Global Witness that Wuzishan LS Group was using chicken waste as fertilizer on the Pheapimex concession in Pursat province.
“After conducting an investigation, [Animal Health and Production officials] found that nobody is sick and the chicken feces was bought from a commune in Kompong Chhnang” province, he said, adding that Kompong Chhnang is currently reported to be free of any outbreak.
Chau Khim, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization national consultant on bird flu said that the use of chicken feces that have been dried for at least one month is safe. “If the chicken waste is not dry yet, anyone who touches the chicken waste can get the virus by accidental transmission,” he said, adding that chicken feces from areas affected by last year’s outbreak in February was burned.
“Chicken waste is not commonly used in Cambodia because it is very expensive,” Suon Sothoeun said. “Most Cambodians use cattle dung.”