Less than two months after it began, the Kingdom’s current outbreak of bird flu has become the country’s largest on record.
Thirty-five-year-old Thoeun Doeun from Kampong Cham died on Monday at about 11pm, becoming the ninth known case and eighth death since the outbreak began. That matches the death toll and surpasses by one the number of cases reported in the entire 2011 outbreak, which spanned a period of approximately seven months.
Doeun, who is believed to have caught the H5N1 virus almost three weeks ago on February 6 after eating two infected ducks, went to the local health clinic with a fever and cough on February 13, was immediately transferred by ambulance to the provincial hospital and put in an isolation ward.
His condition deteriorated due to a secondary infection, and he was transferred last Friday to Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital, where he died.
The provincial health department’s director, Kim Soupirun, said test results sent to South Korea confirmed on Saturday the man had avian influenza.
But by the time he reached Calmette Hospital, “he could not be helped”, Soupirun said.
A Rapid Response Team was sent to the village immediately after the Doeun’s diagnosis, and more than 300 poultry have since been killed.
The Ministry of Health’s deputy director for communicable diseases control, Ly Sovann, said he was worried about the “dramatic” spread of the disease in less than two months, and that the last patient had been “careless” in not notifying authorities sooner.
“I inform and appeal again to the whole population of the country, if you see sick or dead birds, you have to tell local officials and do not touch or eat those birds. Moreover, you have to tell the children to stay away from birds,” he said.
Sovann said authorities were stepping up their response with enhanced surveillance and a heightened communications campaign.
World Health Organisation spokesman Sonny Krishnan said they were watching the situation closely.
“At the moment there’s still no human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus, and the disease is still of limited transmissibility between poultry and humans. But we are keeping a very close eye at the village and community level.”
He said officials had authorised increased television and radio educational advertisements in the lead up to Khmer New Year.
“In our few investigations there has been a heightened movement of poultry for the Lunar New Year, and we’re expecting another one for the Khmer New Year.”
Krishnan added that demographic and population changes possibly exacerbated the outbreaks.
“It’s something further studies need to be done on − where urban areas are expanding into peri-urban and rural areas, with poor people keeping backyard poultry in unhygienic conditions.”