Government officials and a World Health Organization adviser said Thursday that blood samples taken from relatives of Tit Sakhan, the Kampot province woman who died in Vietnam on Sunday from suspected avian influenza, have tested negative for the deadly virus.
Tests on seven of Tit Sakhan’s relatives, and three others in close contact with the woman, were negative for H5N1, the WHO’s Megge Miller said Thursday.
Tests on 13 samples from chickens from the dead woman’s village also tested negative, Miller said, adding that results from a WHO test on samples taken from Tit Sakhan, to confirm whether she died of avian influenza, could be a week or more away.
Minster of Agriculture Chan Sarun went on state television Thursday afternoon to inform the public about the possible bird flu death.
He said that according to research Tit Sakhan had traveled in and out of Vietnam selling chickens and that the presence of wild birds not far from the house could have caused her illness.
In an e-mail from the US, an epidemiologist and avian influenza expert long critical of preparations against bird flu said that, in light of reports of hundreds of chickens dying undetected in Kampot prior to Tit Sakhan’s death, Cambodia’s surveillance of the disease falls far short of standard practices.
“I am not sure if it is funding or simply not wanting to know, but there seems to be a lack of simple testing of suspect patients and birds,” Henry Niman wrote.
“Even though [Tit Sakhan’s] brother had just died of similar symptoms and the birds were dying, she still was not tested until she arrived in Vietnam…. Cambodia does not appear to be testing some fairly obvious cases,” he added.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s expert on bird flu in Cambodia, Yves Froelich, disagreed on Thursday.
“We have a surveillance system in place. I think now it is sufficient,” he said.
“If you compare with the situation last year there is greater transparency…. Last year I know they waited 3 weeks to a month before officially reporting a detection,” he added.
“You have to realize the situation in the region. If you want to have Western standards, it would require a massive increase in funding,” said Bakhtal Boualan, an FAO administrator.
Chan Sarun said more than 100 chickens were tested for bird flu nationwide last month.
Japanese Embassy official Takaku Ryutaro said Wednesday that Japan is satisfied that the $402,000 it has given Cambodia to detect bird flu has been well spent.