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Brother of Deceased Bird Flu Victim Tests Positive, Fourth Case in 2024, Prompting Extra Caution

The Health Ministry in Phnom Penh on February 2, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
The Health Ministry in Phnom Penh on February 2, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

A 16-year-old boy from Kratie province has been confirmed as having contracted H5N1 influenza. He is the older brother of nine-year-old Roeun Virun, who died of the virus on February 8, bringing the total number of cases to four this year, the Ministry of Health stated.

On Sunday, the National Institute of Public Health’s laboratory results showed that the victim, Roeun Virak, tested positive for H5N1 but he did not display any symptoms, including respiratory problems.

According to the ministry, five chickens and three ducks died in the boys’ household. The poultry were reared for personal consumption.

Ngy Bunlen, director of Kratie provincial health department, told CamboJA that they collaborated with the provincial agriculture department to educate people, including students in Kratie’s O’ Russey commune, about the virus and how to prevent it. They also tested all the people who came in contact with Virun.

“We have divided the work with the agriculture department to collect and cremate the carcass. Doctors and nurses have also reached out and taken samples of those who came in contact with the patient,” he said.

Samples were taken from 15 of Virun’s family members on February 10 and 11, which was when Virak, the older brother, was found to have also contracted the virus. He is receiving treatment at Kratie provincial hospital.

The department continues to look for more people who may have been in contact with the patient, Bunlen said.

According to the ministry, this is the fourth bird flu case in 2024. The first case was detected in a three-year-old boy in Prey Veng, followed by a 69-year-old man at Siem Reap, and Virun.

Since the start of 2023, the ministry has recorded three bird flu deaths, involving an 11-year-old girl in Kandal province, and a two-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man in Prey Veng province, respectively.

The Health Ministry, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry (MAFF) and Environment Ministry are jointly investigating the source of the infection and suspicious cases.

The Health Ministry reminded people to be careful about bird flu because the disease continues to threaten people’s health. Anyone who experiences fever, cough, runny nose or breathing difficulties, and has been in the presence of infected or dead poultry in the last 14 days, should seek treatment at a health center.

The H5N1 influenza normally spreads among poultry, and can sometimes spread from poultry to humans, hence the government’s precautionary message to people to wash their hands before eating and not consume any sick poultry. 

A vendor sells chicken meat at a market in Phnom Penh on December 27, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

MAFF observed that the rapid temperature change from cool to hot combined with the weakening of animals’ immune system make them more susceptible to more virulent viruses, resulting in the rapid spread of infectious diseases.

Thus, to prevent the spread of animal-origin viruses, especially animal-to-human transmission, the General Directorate of Animal Health and Production has made several recommendations.

These include the monitoring of the transport of animals and meat, such as chicken and pork based on technical standards, spraying of disinfectant in animal transportation, increasing education and research, and preventing the import and export of animal products.

Ly Sovann, spokesperson of the Health Ministry, did not respond to questions.