A 5-year-old girl died of avian influenza on Thursday, the fifth person to die from the highly contagious virus in Cambodia since January 21, the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health said in a joint statement on Friday.
The girl, from Takeo province’s Prey Kabbas district, had been in regular contact with poultry and developed a fever and cough, then started vomiting on January 25. She is the second child to die from bird flu in the district, a doctor at Phnom Penh’s Kantha Bopha Hospital said.
“She was initially treated by local practitioners,” the joint statement said. “Her condition worsened and she was admitted to Kantha Bopha Hospital on January 31 with fever, cough and dyspnoea,” or shortness of breath, it added.
Despite receiving “intensive” treatment, she died seven days later, the same day that Phnom Penh’s Pasteur Institute confirmed from tissue samples that she had been suffering from H5N1.
The case was the sixth this year. Of those affected, only an 8-month-old boy from Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district—whose case was the first confirmed—survived.
“Avian influenza H5N1 is still a threat to Cambodians,” Health Minister Mam Bunheng was quoted in the statement as saying. “This is the sixth case of H5N1 infection in a human early this year, and children still seem to be most vulnerable.”
The minister added that parents needed to be vigilant in keeping their children away from sick or dead poultry and make sure that they wash their hands often.
Chan Ros, the latest victim’s mother, said on Friday that her daughter had touched a dead chicken and had also eaten its meat before falling ill.
“She got a fever and diarrhea, so I went and bought medicine from a private doctor. But it did not work, so I took her to a referral hospital,” she said. “I am so sad to lose my daughter, because she was my youngest child.”
The girl was cremated on Friday morning in a dress she had been planning to wear to an upcoming wedding, her mother said.
“When I touch her belongings, I start to cry because I have lost her forever.”
Reached by telephone, Dr. Denis Laurent, deputy director of Kantha Bopha Hospital, said the girl was the second person to die from the same district. A 15-year-old girl from Prey Kabbas died at the hospital on January 21.
“This is the first time in Kantha Bopha that we have had four cases [of H5N1] in less than two weeks,” Dr. Laurent added.
According to the joint statement, a number of poultry in the girl’s village had died recently. When the virus is transmitted from bird to human, it can be fatal.
In response, officials began culling live poultry on Friday morning in Prey Lvea commune’s Angk Krasang village, where the girl lived.
“Police have been patrolling the area in order to prevent the spread of disease to other areas by not allowing people to bring poultry in or take it out,” said deputy district police chief Euo Vanarith.
“We don’t allow poultry salesmen to cross through,” he added. “We have informed people to bury their chickens if they die of disease, and wash their hands after touching the chicken.”
According to commune chief Yon Kon, 40 chickens have been incinerated so far in a bid to stem the spread of the influenza.
“The police have also put up a sign that people are not allowed to go within 1 kilometer [of where the poultry died] to stop the disease from spreading to other villages,” Mr. Kon said, adding that villagers had been urged to stop their children from playing with chickens.
Since the outbreak began last month, Hong Kong has banned the import of eggs from Cambodia and municipal officials in Phnom Penh have been forced to undertake a rigorous screening program for poultry coming into the city from rural areas.
Officials have said that the mass movement of poultry ahead of Chinese New Year on Sunday, when demand generally picks up, could have contributed to the spread of the virus.
A total of 27 people have died of avian influenza in Cambodia since the first case was recorded in the country. Of those, 18 were under the age of 14.