News / Health

International Effort Underway to Control Bird Flu in Cambodia

Chickens for sale in the center of Chhbar Ampov market, Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Chickens for sale in the center of Chhbar Ampov market, Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Robert Carmichael
— 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.

Vendor Ly Mey selects chickens for slaughter at her selling site at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)Vendor Ly Mey selects chickens for slaughter at her selling site at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
x
Vendor Ly Mey selects chickens for slaughter at her selling site at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Vendor Ly Mey selects chickens for slaughter at her selling site at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
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.

Human-to-human transmission

Chickens trussed and ready for sale at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)Chickens trussed and ready for sale at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
x
Chickens trussed and ready for sale at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Chickens trussed and ready for sale at Chhbar Ampov market in Phnom Penh. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
The main concern of health experts is that H5N1 will mutate to allow human-to-human transmission.

Most of Cambodia’s cases of H5N1 have been in the country’s southeast, an area that shares a porous border with Vietnam through which birds are smuggled with few inspections. But where Cambodia reported more than 30 cases in humans since the start of 2013, Vietnam reported just four.

Speaking via Skype, Dr. Dennis Carroll, who heads the pandemic influenza and other emerging threats unit at USAID - the U.S. government’s development arm - says that is puzzling because the H5N1 variant is the same on both sides of the border.

“The epidemiology, the genetics, of both the virus and the presentation both in poultry and in humans are pretty much shared. But we’re seeing a huge inequity between what’s showing up on the Cambodia side versus what’s showing up on the Vietnam side without any real obvious explanation,” said Carroll.

There are several possibilities for the increase in human infections in Cambodia.  It could be due to better monitoring and reporting, or it could be there really are more infections, or it could be some combination of the two.

At this stage, the experts simply do not know, which is why USAID is hosting Monday’s meeting with officials from Vietnam and Cambodia, in part to improve information-sharing and responses to outbreaks.

Cambodia already has built a much-improved surveillance and testing program for H5N1. But it still has no poultry vaccination program nor a plan to compensate farmers who cull their birds. Experts say that if the situation worsens, that might have to change.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid