WHO Team To Probe Two Ratanakkiri Deaths

The World Health Organ­ization this week will send a team of doctors to investigate whether two reported deaths in Rata­nakkiri province may be related to Severe Acute Respiratory Syn­drome, the deadly pneumonialike illness that is believed to have killed at least nine people in Asia and Canada, a WHO official said Monday.

Officials from Health Un­lim­ited, a UK-based NGO with an office in Banlung, reported to WHO officials in Phnom Penh Monday that be­tween two and 10 people, be­tween the ages of 15 and 30, had fallen ill in Ratanak­kiri, suffering from high fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, said Dr Michel Jancloes, acting WHO country representative.

But Jancloes said it was too early to determine whether or not the patients are SARS victims since their symptoms are similar to those induced by several af­flictions, including malaria and tuberculosis. “We don’t have any for­mal indication from the government side about the suspicion of epidemic in Cambodia,” he said.

He also said the sick people, members of a remote hill tribe along the Vietnamese border, do not fit the SARS profile, since most cases have been re­ported in urban areas. It is un­clear whether the sick are from the same village or from a cluster of villages.

The team will conduct a general study of the Ra­tanakkiri cases, following WHO instructions from Geneva to record patients’ symptoms, ages, sex, travel history and the location of those who died.

“As soon as we see a specific risk, we will develop a specific in­vestigation,” Jencloes said.

WHO has requested the cooperation of the Pasteur Institute and the Ministry of Heath’ Com­municable Disease Depart­ment to gather information necessary to determine if SARS has infiltrated Cambodia’s borders.

CDC Director Dr Sok Touch said the government would not yet issue a public health warning but is advising people to practice basic rules of hygiene like washing their hands.

Agence France-Presse reported Monday that at least 48 people in Vietnam have contracted SARS, which is believed to have struck 150 others throughout Canada, China, Hong Kong, In­donesia, the Philippines, Sing­apore and Thailand.

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