PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA — Health officials in Prey Veng province have confirmed the death of an 11-year-old girl from H5N1, Cambodia’s first known human "bird flu” infection since 2014.
Panharith Seng, director of the Prey Veng provincial health department, told VOA Khmer on Thursday that many chickens and ducks in the area where the girl lived had died of H5N1.
The girl, a resident of Roleang village in Romlech commune, began showing symptoms of fever, cough and sore throat on February 16. She was diagnosed Wednesday after suffering a fever of up to 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) with coughing and throat pain, the Health Ministry said Wednesday, the day she died.
Also known as avian flu, H5N1 wasn’t seen as a threat to humans until a 1997 outbreak was linked to people who had frequented live poultry markets in Hong Kong. Out of 18 people infected, six died.
Although most cases in people involve direct contact with infected poultry, infections in minks, raccoons, foxes, seals, grizzly bears and even marine mammals like seals and porpoises have sparked worries about the possibility of the virus evolving to spread easily among people, according to the scientific journal Nature.
Scientists say another kind of bird flu was likely behind the 1918-19 flu pandemic that killed millions worldwide, and avian viruses played roles in other flu pandemics in 1957, 1968 and 2009.
Investigators concluded that the bird flu virus apparently spread from one person to another during outbreaks in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Pakistan, most recently in 2007, according to The Associated Press.
Seng said officials in the rural southeastern province had not shut down the girl’s village as they continued to investigate the case.
“Now we are working with the Ministry of Agriculture, [which] has a lot of officials who are experts," Seng said. “They are gathering there to investigate but have not seen any further infections.”
Seng urged people to remain calm and take preventative measures.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng warned that bird flu poses an especially high risk to children who may be feeding or collecting eggs from domesticated poultry, playing with the birds or cleaning their cages.
Cambodian health officials have taken samples from a dead wild bird at a conservation area near the girl’s home, the ministry said Thursday.
Ministry of Agriculture spokeswoman Rachna Im told VOA Khmer via Telegram on Thursday that there were no reports of domestic animals dying in provinces other than Prey Veng.
"The ministry also appeals to all people who see dead animals, especially chickens and ducks, not to go near or eat them,” Im said. “And report immediately to local authorities or the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, so that officials can go down to intervene in time."
According to the Ministry of Health, the girl is the first person to die of H5N1 since an outbreak was quelled in 2014. The Ministry of Health added that the bird flu has been endemic in Cambodia since 2005, with a total of 57 infections and 38 deaths.
"Although it is not easily transmitted from person to person, if it mutates, it could spread like seasonal colds,” the Health Ministry said. “Therefore, early detection and prevention of rapid transmission is very important to prevent outbreaks in the community.”
Cambodian health officials said that the H5N1 bird flu virus is detected every year during colder weather from December to April, and the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture always take immediate action. (HN/VOA)