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In Prey Veng, Ill Chickens Eaten, Not Burned

Despite efforts to raise awareness of bird flu in Prey Veng province, some villagers say they continue eat chickens that have died from illness.

On a recent afternoon in Krang Svay commune, Preah S’dech district, Bun Eath, a 27-year-old farmer, spread rice to feed her chickens. Last month, she said, she ate several chickens that had died of disease.

“I buried and burned the chicks, but the big ones I cooked for food, because I didn’t want to waste them,” she said.

Health officials warn that eating chickens after they have fallen ill could spread the H5N1 virus, known as bird flu. The disease can spread from bird to bird and bird to human, but experts worry the virus could one day be spread from human to human, creating a pandemic.

Saing Saron, head of the animal health production office of Prey Veng, said that since the first appearance of the bird flu here, when one man died in 2006, he and his colleagues have tried to raise awareness about the disease. Now, as many as 80 percent of the 1 million people in Prey Veng know about bird flu, he said.

Tep Samoeun, head of the Prey Veng health department’s rapid response unit, said the department of communicable disease control of the Ministry of Health had conducted training for 828 villagers from five of the province’s 12 districts.

“What we teach them is about the effects of bird flu and how to kill the chickens, not to eat chickens that die from illness, and to bury and burn them,” he said.

Not everyone listened.

Nearby Bun Eath’s farm was Chhum On, 35, who also said he eats chickens after they have died from illness, although he cooks the meat thoroughly.

“When my chickens die, I also use them for cooking,” he said, “because I think my stomach is more important than the influenza virus.”