Toxic algae may be to blame for the death of one person and the illness of at least 450 villagers in Banteay Meanchey province who drank contaminated water from a village pond, a World Health Organization official said Wednesday.
However, the pond in Malai district’s Takong commune may also have been deliberately poisoned with chemicals, said Megge Miller, a WHO epidemiologist who visited sick villagers in Boh Thom village Wednesday.
“We’ve narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities…. We’re trying to figure out at the moment whether it’s deliberate poisoning or a natural thing,” Miller said by phone from Banteay Meanchey.
On Feb 7, 376 villagers in Boh Thom were struck with vision problems, diarrhea, vomiting and exhaustion, while an additional 74 villagers have become sick since then, according to Chhum Vannarith, director of the provincial health department.
Dehydration is now a major problem, as many villagers are still suffering from diarrhea, Miller said. Health workers administered intravenous fluids to 150 people Wednesday, while five people whose condition was serious were transferred to the O’Chrou district referral hospital, she added. Most of the affected villagers are recovering, Miller said.
Chhum Vannarith said 49 people from neighboring Prasat Rang village appeared in Boh Thom on Wednesday seeking medical treatment, claiming to have fallen ill after drinking from a stream.
Miller said that villagers from Prasat Rang seem to be experiencing different symptoms, and that their water supply does not appear similarly contaminated.
“It appears it might be a separate, unrelated outbreak,” she said.
Krui Sumlai, vice director of Phnom Penh’s Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, said 2.5 liters of the water from Boh Thom is currently in a refrigerator in her lab. Once officials from the Health Ministry give their approval, the lab will proceed with testing, she said.
Krui Sumlai also said that she has e-mailed experts in Japan asking for advice.
“They have a lot of experience with natural toxins,” she said.
Health Ministry officials contacted Wednesday referred questions about the testing to the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge.