A 24-year-old Cambodian woman who had undergone treatment in Vietnam for suspected avian influenza died on Sunday, Cambodian health officials said on Monday.
The deceased woman’s father also said that his 14-year-old son died in late January also after suffering bird flu-like symptoms and that other members of the family are currently suffering from high fever and respiratory problems.
Officials stressed that, as of Monday, none of the victims had been confirmed to have suffered from the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus.
“I wish to inform you that a woman, 24 years old, has died in Kien Giang province,” said Lim Kaing Eang, director of Kampot provincial health department.
“We are still waiting to confirm from the sample. But the symptoms of the disease are similar to bird flu,” he said, adding that on Jan 21, the woman’s 14-year-old brother died in Kampot province’s Kompong Trach district.
“He is the brother of the woman who has died in Vietnam…. He went to a private sector treatment and they returned him home
where he died. The symptoms where he died. The symptoms were similar to the woman in Vietnam.”
Lim Kaing Eang said that he had heard three more family members were sick with suspicious symptoms.
“Today I have sent an ambulance with medicine and ampoules to collect samples to send to Phnom Penh for testing,” Lim Kaing Eang said.
Ly Sovann, chief of the Ministry of Health’s Disease Surveillance Bureau, said he was still waiting for confirmation from Vietnamese health officials that the cause of death was bird flu.
Speaking by telephone from his home in Koh Chamkar village, Boeung Khang Thbong commune, Kompong Trach district, Uy Ngoy, 47, identified his deceased daughter as Tit Sakhan and his deceased son as Tit Chaing.
Ngoy Uy said his 9-month-old baby daughter and the 22-year-old husband of Tit Sakhan were also ill.
“In December my chickens, about 50—five hens and the rest chicks—fell sick for a few hours and then died,” Ngoy Uy said. “Two or three died everyday. The dying period was 20 days, ending in early January,” he said, adding that his son was the first to fall ill.
“I took him to a private hospital of Dr Ou Sary, to his clinic. The boy stayed at his house for two days…but he could not treat the boy. When he injected the medicine through the intravenous bottle, the body still had fever. He suggested that the boy go home and pray to the spirits.”
When his daughter fell ill next, Ngoy Uy again took her to the doctor but when she could not be treated, he took her to Vietnam.
“I took her to Ha Tien hospital in Vietnam. The hospital also could not treat the patient and said it was a new kind of disease,” he said. The hospital told them to go to Kien Giang province hospital, where Tit Sakhan later died.
Nine days elapsed between the time Tit Sakhan fell ill and her death at 8 am on Sunday.
Ngoy Uy said that he had never heard of bird flu until his daughter was treated in Vietnam.
“My family members take care of chickens and touched them because we had never seen such a type of disease before. We did not take precautions,” he said.
The family ate the diseased chickens, said Ngoy Uy, adding that on Monday a local veterinarian tested his one remaining chicken for bird flu.
“So far the case did not prove scientifically to be bird flu and the media is making the case that the person has died of bird flu,” Suon Sothoeun, deputy director of the Department of Animal Health and Production at the Agriculture Ministry, said Monday.
“We will get more updates by tomorrow,” he said.
Maggie Miller, the World Health Organization’s adviser on avian influenza, said that she will travel to Kampot today to assist in the investigation.
“Right now we are assuming the worst-case scenario because we have yet to investigate the situation in this village,” she said.
She said that Cambodian officials were initially skeptical that case was bird flu because the time span between the poultry deaths and the woman’s illness exceeded the incubation period of seven to 10 days.
“The focus now is on developing an early warning system, training provincial health authorities to test for bird flu. The focus is on collecting the samples properly so they are not contaminated,” she said.
Miller added that the testing system at the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh has been improved after criticism during last year’s outbreak of bird flu, in which no human cases of the disease were confirmed but thousands of chickens were destroyed.
Nguyen Than Duc, press attache of the Vietnamese Embassy, said that Vietnam is prepared for an outbreak of bird flu in Cambodia.
He said that Vietnam has banned poultry imports from Cambodia as a measure to limit infections.
“We have already halted imports,” Nguyen Than Duc said.