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In Battambang, an Absence of Bird Flu Fear

Poultry vendors in Battambang province say they don’t always follow safety precautions for handling birds, mainly because they aren’t afraid of the bird flu virus, even as health authorities are working to prioritize areas to mitigate the threat.

Sitting on a box full of chickens, Yoern Yean, 31, told VOA Khmer recently he had been running his business for five years and never uses gloves to handle the birds.

Another vendor, Vy Savuth, 42, said he only buys healthy birds, so bird flu, caused by the H5N1 virus, was not a concern.

“I touch chickens every day, for 10 years already, by neither my wife nor I have ever had the bird flu virus,” he said.

Seven Cambodians have died from the bird flu virus, in eight outbreaks since 2005, making the country a target in the fight against the disease. Health officials worry that one day the disease could mutate into a form that could easily spread from human to human, creating a global pandemic.

“I never wear a mask or gloves,” said Meas Vy, 36, as she held a chicken in her arms. “I’m not afraid of the H5N1 virus.”

Pen Setha, director of the provincial animal health office, said market vendors are taught to use gloves and masks while handling birds, “but they don’t follow us.”

Health officials are seeking to change that behavior, especially in the districts of Samlot, Kamreang, Sampov Loun and Phnom Phroek, which are close to Thailand and therefore a greater threat.