Three new cases of avian influenza infection in humans, two of which ended in fatality, have been diagnosed in three provinces in the past two weeks, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a joint statement on Friday.
In the first of the three cases, an 8-month-old boy from Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune in Phnom Penh, who first showed symptoms on January 8, was the only one who survived the H5N1 virus.
A 35-year-old man from Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisey district and a 15-year-old girl from Takeo province’s Prey Kabass district, who both suffered from fever and shortness of breath, both died on Monday in Phnom Penh hospitals.
“I urge parents and guardians to keep children away from sick or dead poultry, discourage them from playing in areas where poultry stay and wash their hands often,” Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said in the statement, adding that families should not hesitate to take children to the hospital if the suffer from breathing difficulties.
The three infections in two weeks compares starkly with 2012, when just three people were diagnosed with avian influenza in the entire year, down from eight cases in 2011. All three cases in 2012 led to the death of the patient.
The WHO, the Ministry of Health and animal health experts from the Ministry of Agriculture are currently trying to find a link between the three latest cases, said the WHO’s Sonny Krishnan.
It was likely that the avian influenza originated from the same group of poultry, but spread over three provinces due to increased trading in chickens before the forthcoming Chinese New Year on February 8, Mr. Krishnan said.
“What happens is that people get poultry from surrounding villages and if they can’t sell it, it’s transferred somewhere else,” he said.
“So Chinese New Year is a probable reason why the cases are so spread out.”
Since 2003, the H5N1 virus, which is common in chickens and birds but rarely transmits to humans, has killed 326 people worldwide, most of them in Southeast Asia.