Cambodian mother, baby die from bird flu

2011-02-24 13:08

Phnom Penh - A Cambodian mother and her 11-month-old son have died from bird flu after preparing and eating meat contaminated by the deadly H5N1 virus, health officials said.

The 19-year-old mother and her baby fell ill with a high fever and cough two days after handling and consuming infected poultry during a visit with relatives in eastern Prey Veng province, according to a joint statement issued late on Wednesday by Cambodia's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The mother died on February 12 at a private clinic in her home province of Banteay Meanchey, while her son died five days later in a hospital intensive care ward in Siem Reap, it said.

Well-cooked meat is safe to eat, but undercooked or raw poultry can infect humans if ingested. Slaughtering or preparing sick or dead birds can also cause infection.

The cases follow the death of a 5-year-old girl earlier this month in the capital, Phnom Penh, which has also been linked to contact with sick poultry.

"Compared to last year, we have seen more cases of H5N1 avian influenza this year," Health Minister Mam Bun Heng said in the statement.

"There seems to be a strong link between preparing and eating sick birds and becoming infected in all the three cases. I urge people to only cook and eat healthy birds."

WHO has confirmed 13 human bird flu cases in Cambodia since 2003, including 11 deaths.

The H5N1 virus raged across Asia in late 2003, decimating poultry stocks. Many countries have since attacked it at its source by vaccinating chickens and ducks or improving biosecurity and hygiene measures on farms.

However, the virus remains endemic within poultry stocks in several countries and outbreaks tend to flare during the winter months.

Human cases remain rare, with most infections linked to close contact with sick birds, but experts fear the virus - which kills about 60% of those sickened - will mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.

Globally, 309 people have died from the H5N1 virus since 2003, nearly half of them in Indonesia, according to the WHO.