Second Bird Flu Case Confirmed, Zoo Closed

Cambodia’s second case of avian influenza has been confirmed at a farm in Russei Keo district and a suspected case of bird flu prompted the closure of the Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Res­cue Center, officials said Thurs­­day.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Mini­stry officials were reluctant to confirm whether mass culls are on the way.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced Thursday that two birds taken from a family farm in Boeng Chhouk village, Kilometer Six commune tested positive for the H5N1 virus, said Suon Sothoeun, deputy director of the Department of Animal Health and Production.

The lab also said that a grey heron from Phnom Tamao Zoo had tested positive for the H5 virus, but had not yet confirmed the presence of the N1 strain, Suon Sothoeun and zoo officials said.

“From what I’ve been told, the grey heron had a form of influenza, but they have not characterized what kind of flu,” said Matt Hunt, an assistant animal husbandry specialist with WildAid, the NGO that supports the zoo.

But the scare was enough to prompt government officials to close the zoo until further notice.

“The ministry made the announcement that people are not allowed to come and see the birds in the zoo,” said Sam Vanty, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Officials from the zoo could not be contacted Thursday.

At a Jan 19 meeting of officials from the ministries of health and agriculture and provincial governors, before any outbreaks of bird flu were suspected in Cambodia’s poultry flocks, Suon Sothoeun said if bird flu was confirmed anywhere in the country, the government would immediately quarantine the area and order the mass slaughter of all birds surrounding the infected site.

But on Thursday, Agriculture Ministry officials said they did not know which birds would be killed, nor did they know if or when mass killing would begin.

“We will identify how many birds we should kill, but the best thing to do is to kill all the birds” around the site of the outbreak, Sam Vanty said.

He said the government has not announced an official quarantine of the areas around the farm or the zoo. Those areas were sprayed with disinfectant chemicals, but no culls have yet been ordered, he said.

“In Kilometer Six, I don’t know the number of livestock we will kill,” Sam Vanty said. “If it is serious bird flu, the ministry will kill all the birds.”

However, the World Health Organization received a report on Thursday stating that all of the birds at the infected farm in Boeng Chhouk were killed, said Sean Tobin, an epidemiologist with the WHO. He said birds in the surrounding farms were under surveillance but had not been scheduled for extermination.

Suon Sothoeun also said that he was not sure of the status of the birds. “I think they have done appropriate measures already,” he said.

The government has not made any decision as to whether it will compensate farmers, Sam Vanty said, adding that no verdict on compensation could be reached until the government decides how many birds to kill.

He said that the government was wary of immediately offering compensation. “People will say, ‘I have 1,000 birds,’ when in fact they have only 10,” he said.

Discussions have been held with potential donors on providing financial support for compensation, Tobin said, although no agreements have been reached.

“I think everyone recognizes that [compensation] is a very important part of the control measures,” he said.

At the Jan 19 meeting, Suon Sotheoun said that in case of mass killings, a committee of government representatives would meet to determine if and how much farmers should be compensated.

The case at Boeng Chhouk village is the second confirmed outbreak since officials said Jan 23 that birds on another farm on Russei Keo district had also tested positive for the virus. The government reportedly killed 3,300 birds at three farms in that area.

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