WHO Hesitant to Deem Cambodia Flu Free

Cambodia’s Tourism Minister has called for an official all-clear on avian influenza to placate nervous travelers, even as World Health Organization and Ministry of Agriculture officials claim it is too early to say whether bird flu has been eradicated here.

An official statement from the WHO would calm tourists’ fears about the disease, Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth said at a seminar Friday in Phnom Penh.

“I want WHO, with the cooperation of the regional governments, to issue a statement similar to the one we had for [severe acute respiratory syndrome] to say that we are free of this disease,” Veng Sereyvuth said by telephone Sunday, adding that he would leave it to the WHO to determine the proper time to make such an announcement.

But that time is still “a long way off,” said Sean Tobin, an epidemiologist with the WHO.

The WHO has not issued any travel warnings for Cambodia and has stated that properly cooked chicken is safe to eat, Tobin said Sunday.

No new cases have been re­ported in poultry in more than a week, said Suon Sothoeun, depu­ty director of the Agriculture Mini­stry’s animal health department.

“If there are no new cases within a couple of months, then you have the right to say that it is [bird flu] free,” he said. “At this stage…we have to keep doing surveillance.”

A bird handler at Phnom Ta­mao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Center in Takeo province who fell ill last week with flu-like symptoms tested negative for bird flu over the weekend, a WHO official said.

The zoo employee, a man in his late 20s, was tested as a precautionary measure and is now back at work, zoo director Pin Lyvon said Sunday. Six birds from the zoo have tested positive for H5N1.

All seven suspected human cases in Cambodia have tested negative, said Sok Touch of the Health Ministry’s communicable disease department.

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