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Experts Battle Disbelief in Bird Flu


As she clears tables at her mother’s Battambang restaurant, Srey Neang often hears customers discuss avian influenza. The 19-year-old thinks her customers don’t know what they’re talking about.

“I don’t believe in the existence of H5N1,” she said recently, referring to the bird flu virus by its scientific name. “It is just a rumor. I’ve seen nothing frightening, nothing to be afraid of.”

Phan Srey Neang, an 18-year-old high school student in Rattanak Mondol district, said she sees and hears bird flu spots on TV and radio almost every day, but she doesn’t think the virus has ever existed at all, let alone in a form that can be transmitted from birds to humans.

“I don’t believe in the existence of the virus, because I’ve never witnessed any person killed by the virus,” she said. “Seeing is believing.”

The views of these two Battambang women underscore the difficulties facing health authorities as they reach out to Cambodian communities in an effort to stop the spread of the disease, which health experts worry could one day lead to a human-to-human pandemic.

“There is nothing we can do to make people believe,” said Uk Vithia, head of the provincial communicable disease control office in Battambang. “What we can do is spread the information about the virus and educate them to prevent themselves from being infected.”

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 254 people worldwide since outbreaks began in 2003. Seven Cambodians have died from the disease, although the most recent case, of a Kandal province man in December, was not fatal.

Still, animal and human health experts continue to educate people on the dangers of the disease, and to some extent it is working, Uk Vithia said.

“I notice that some people now tell vendor not to add raw egg when they have a fruit shake or to cook eggs well when they have fried noodles,” he said.

Though the disease has never occurred in Battambang, Ngek Bun Chhup, director of the provincial health department, said people should not ignore it. The disease is more severe than AIDS, he said.

“Basically, among the communicable viruses, H5N1 is the quickest to break out, to transmit and to kill,” he said.

Cheam Chansophoan, director of the provincial agricultural department, said both small and large- scale poultry farmers should inform village veterinarians or local authorities if their birds die in large numbers.

“People should also never eat a bird that has died for an unknown reason, whether they believe there exists the H5N1 virus or not,” he said.

As she clears tables at her mother’s Battambang restaurant, Srey Neang often hears customers discuss avian influenza. The 19-year-old thinks her customers don’t know what they’re talking about.

“I don’t believe in the existence of H5N1,” she said recently, referring to the bird flu virus by its scientific name. “It is just a rumor. I’ve seen nothing frightening, nothing to be afraid of.”

Phan Srey Neang, an 18-year-old high school student in Rattanak Mondol district, said she sees and hears bird flu spots on TV and radio almost every day, but she doesn’t think the virus has ever existed at all, let alone in a form that can be transmitted from birds to humans.

“I don’t believe in the existence of the virus, because I’ve never witnessed any person killed by the virus,” she said. “Seeing is believing.”

The views of these two Battambang women underscore the difficulties facing health authorities as they reach out to Cambodian communities in an effort to stop the spread of the disease, which health experts worry could one day lead to a human-to-human pandemic.

“There is nothing we can do to make people believe,” said Uk Vithia, head of the provincial communicable disease control office in Battambang. “What we can do is spread the information about the virus and educate them to prevent themselves from being infected.”

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 254 people worldwide since outbreaks began in 2003. Seven Cambodians have died from the disease, although the most recent case, of a Kandal province man in December, was not fatal.

Still, animal and human health experts continue to educate people on the dangers of the disease, and to some extent it is working, Uk Vithia said.

“I notice that some people now tell vendor not to add raw egg when they have a fruit shake or to cook eggs well when they have fried noodles,” he said.

Though the disease has never occurred in Battambang, Ngek Bun Chhup, director of the provincial health department, said people should not ignore it. The disease is more severe than AIDS, he said.

“Basically, among the communicable viruses, H5N1 is the quickest to break out, to transmit and to kill,” he said.

Cheam Chansophoan, director of the provincial agricultural department, said both small and large- scale poultry farmers should inform village veterinarians or local authorities if their birds die in large numbers.

“People should also never eat a bird that has died for an unknown reason, whether they believe there exists the H5N1 virus or not,” he said.

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