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Vets in Every Village Watch for Bird Flu

The provincial agricultural department of Battambang has put in place veterinarians in every village across the province to monitor the possible outbreak of avian influenza.

The director of the department, Cheam Chan Sophoan, said in a recent interview 813 veterinarians trained in the control and prevention of bird flu have been put in place since the latest case, discovered in a Kandal province man in December.

“In Battambang, where there are 740 villages, we have more than 800 veterinarians,” he said. “That means in some villages we have three to four vets, so if there is any suspected case, we will be informed and then we can send our experts to deal with it.”

Battambang province increased its number of vets from 500 in 2006, he said, when Cambodia saw its sixth case of the disease; a 12-year-old boy died in Prey Veng province. Seven Cambodians have died so far, in a worldwide total of 254.

The disease is caused by the H5N1 virus, which is carried by birds and can be transmitted to humans. Health experts worry the disease could change to be carried human to human, creating a pandemic.

Provincial chief of veterinarians Pen Setha said recently that at the end of each month, all the village vets must report to their commune offices about the birds in their villages. Then, the commune office makes a report to the provincial office, he said.

“Or if it’s an emergency, each village vet must call directly the provincial office,” he said.

The provincial department has provided each village vet medicine to spray around bird to prevent the spread of the disease.

“We have distributed a set of equipment to deal with the virus with the support of the [Food and Agricultural Office of the UN],” he said. “If the case is not serious, the village chief can spray the area and deal with the case themselves because they have the equipment.”

The vet chief also said his team has been monitoring the traffic of birds in every market in the province. However, officials are still concerned about the possibility of outbreak through the import of poor quality poultry from Thailand.

Cheam Chan Sophoan said imports of infected birds from neighboring countries would be destroyed if they are found.

“If the vendor secretly sells poor quality chicken, we will invite them to the office to sign a contract, and we will destroy all the birds,” he said. “We also have our officials along the border to control the import.”

Nhiek Bun Chhup, head of the provincial health department, said even though the province has never been hit with bird flu, the disease was still one of their priorities. His department has created a rapid response team to deal with suspected cases of bird to human transmission.

So far, he said, his team has tested three suspected cases where people had touched dead fowl without proper protection. All of the cases turned out negative.

“In those cases, the affected people showed symptoms of respiratory illness and fever,” he said. “Even though those symptoms are not really the symptoms of the virus, we got samples to have them tested.”

Though the government has taken many measures against bird flu, some farmers continue to withhold information about sick or dead birds.

One provincial farmer in Wat Kor commune, Battambang district, who asked not to be named, said that one night 300 or 400 in a flock of 3,000 ducks died, in what he suspected was bird flu. He did not report to the authorities or his village vet, he said, for fear that the rest of his birds would be culled and their houses destroyed without compensation. Instead, he plucked the birds and sold them at market the next morning for a low price.

Vet chief Pen Setha acknowledged that such cases would happen, but said the government did not have measures to compensate farmers for lost birds. “So we just explain to the farmers not to do such a thing.”