Two more children died Monday from avian influenza which has spread across four provinces in the past two weeks, bringing the death toll to four and the number of cases to five since January 21, health officials said.
A 1-year-old girl from Kompong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district and an 8-year-old girl from Kampot province’s Toek Chhou district died Monday while receiving treatment at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh, said Dr. Denis Laurent, the hospital’s deputy director.
The two deaths come just one week after a 15-year-old girl from Takeo province’s Prey Kabass district and a 35-year-old man from Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisei district also died in Phnom Penh hospitals from the H5N1 virus.
Among the five recorded cases to date, an 8-month-old boy from Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune, who first showed symptoms on January 8, is the only victim to survive.
“We now have three deaths at [Kantha Bopha]; the first was a [15-year-old] girl. Today, a 17-month-old infant girl and another girl, 8 years old, died,” Dr. Laurent said, declining to elaborate on the outbreak.
Despite the sudden spate of new cases—just three people were diagnosed with avian influenza throughout the whole of 2012—the World Health Organization said there was no immediate danger, as long as people paid attention to hygiene standards.
“It’s not really dangerous because there is no evidence yet that people visiting live poultry markets can get sick,” WHO communications officer Sonny Krishnan said. “But in 2005, we also had four cases in two or three weeks, and I don’t think we can draw any conclusions yet.”
According to Mr. Krishnan, an increase in the amount of poultry being traded in the run-up to the Chinese Lunar New Year on February 10 as well as the current relatively cold weather, which is weakening people’s immune system, are some of the possible reasons for the recent rise in cases.
“If there’s increased demand [for poultry], there’s a higher risk for infection,” he said, explaining that the virus—which has killed more than 330 people worldwide —is transmitted from one chicken to the other before eventually infecting humans.
Mr. Krishnan said that an emergency meeting would be held today with Health Ministry officials to increase the number of notices on television and radio educating people about avian influenza.
Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng declined to comment on the outbreak.
Last year in Vietnam, a new strain of avian influenza developed in the country in July, though the new strain was never found in humans. According to the WHO, two people died and four cases of H5N1 were recorded in Vietnam throughout 2012.
Dr. Philippe Buchy, head of the Pasteur Institute’s virology department in Phnom Penh, which has tested the recent cases, urged people to stay away from live poultry and only buy chicken or ducks if they have been properly processed.
“This is a very basic recommendation: Don’t buy live poultry, because it is never safe in a country where the virus is circulating,” he said, adding that most Cambodians slaughter and pluck chickens themselves and are unlikely to come across processed meat.
He also said there was absolutely no way of predicting whether further cases would be confirmed in the country.
Ma Savath, governor of Kong Pisei district, where two cases have occurred so far, said that officials were still trying to find a possible link between the five cases.