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Water Festival Potential Booster for H1N1 Flu

Health officials say November’s Water Festival, which draws more than a million people to Phnom Penh each year, could hasten the spread of the H1N1 virus across the country.

The virus, sometimes called the swine flu, has killed three Cambodians and infected 130 people in the country so far.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said officials had prepared 500,000 leaflets on flu prevention to inform the influx of villagers for the three day festival, schedule for Nov. 1 through Nov. 3.

Boat races on the Tonle Sap river draw huge crowds to each bank, packed tightly together, which can promote the spread of the illness, Mam Bunheng said.

“This gathering is a good chance for the virus, as they are sneezing and coughing,” he told reporters. Those who are feeling ill should stay at home until they get better, he said.

Michel Thieren, a World Health Organization representative in Cambodia, said the festival and its crowds were something to be concerned over.