Via VOA News: International Effort Underway to Control Bird Flu in Cambodia. Excerpt:
Health officials are scheduled to meet in the Cambodian capital on Monday, March 24, to discuss that country’s increase in the number of cases of avian influenza in humans. The most recent victim, a two-year-old girl, died on March 14, bringing the number of confirmed fatalities this year to four. Fourteen Cambodians died last year from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza, more than half of the global total.
At the Chhbar Ampov market, one of Phnom Penh’s largest, sales of chickens are going well. Ly Mey has been slaughtering birds for a decade. She kills, plucks and sell about 20 a day.
She buys them from Prey Veng, a province that lies between Phnom Penh and neighboring Vietnam, and which is a hotspot for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. But Ly Mey is not concerned about the disease.
She says it is easy to tell immediately, and better than the veterinarian, whether a chicken is healthy.
It is a similar story elsewhere in the market: Chum Sophal, who sells 100 kilograms of chicken legs and wings daily, is under the mistaken impression that live birds do not carry avian influenza.
She says the chickens she buys are safe because they were alive at the time. She says buyers of meat from her chickens should not worry because she does not sell meat from chickens already dead.
Both women are wrong. Chickens can carry H5N1 before showing any signs, while infected ducks often do not show any sign of infection at all. The risk for humans comes when handling infected birds or eating them without cooking them properly. In those circumstances, humans can contract H5N1. The fatality rate in people whom testing showed were infected with H5N1 is around 60 percent.
Need to change behaviors
The women’s lack of understanding is no great surprise. Since H5N1 was first detected here in poultry in January 2004, the authorities and donors have tried to get people to change their behavior when handling birds. Experts say that effort has largely failed.
That is partly because some 80 percent of the country’s 20 million chickens and ducks are raised in close proximity to humans. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, believes H5N1 is endemic in Cambodia’s poultry.
However, the government will not pay compensation to villagers who lose their poultry to the disease. As a consequence, when birds fall ill, the incentive for impoverished villagers is either to sell them or to eat them - not to report the outbreak.
The FAO’s Lotfi Allal says prevention efforts should try to focus on further measures to ensure early reporting of the virus.
“The virus is here, is circulating. We have to be aware, not making a panic, and we have continue working closely together with the human sector to see how better we can do to reduce the risk for humans and how early we can detect the virus [which] has its source in the poultry,” said Allal.
With 18 fatalities from H5N1 over the past 15 months, Cambodia has reported the worst statistics of any country in the world. More than half of Cambodia’s 56 confirmed cases of H5N1 infection in humans to date have occurred since the start of last year.