By Sopheng Cheang | Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — An 11-year-old girl in Cambodia has died of bird flu in the first known human H5N1 infection since 2014, health officials said.
Bird flu, also known as bird flu, normally spreads among poultry and was not considered a threat to humans until 1997 when visitors to live poultry markets in Hong Kong caught an outbreak. Most human cases worldwide have involved direct contact with infected poultry, but recently concerns have been raised about infections in several mammals and the possibility that the virus could evolve to spread more easily between humans.
The girl from the rural southeastern province of Prey Veng fell ill on February 16 and was sent to a hospital in the capital Phnom Penh for treatment. She was diagnosed Wednesday after running a fever of up to 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) with a cough and sore throat and died shortly afterward, the health ministry said in a statement Wednesday evening.
Health officials took samples from a dead wild bird in a protected area near the girl’s home, the ministry said in another statement Thursday. It said teams in the area would also warn residents about touching dead and sick birds.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng warned that bird flu poses a particularly high risk to children who may be feeding or collecting domestic poultry eggs, playing with the birds or cleaning their cages.
Symptoms of an H5N1 infection are similar to those of other flu strains, including cough, aches and fever, and in severe cases patients can develop life-threatening pneumonia.
Cambodia had 56 human cases of H5N1 between 2003 and 2014, and 37 of those were fatal, according to the World Health Organization.
Globally, about 870 human infections and 457 deaths have been reported to WHO in 21 countries. But the pace has slowed, and there have been about 170 infections and 50 deaths in the past seven years.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this month expressed concern about avian influenza infections in mammals, including minks, otters, foxes and sea lions.
“H5N1 has been widely spread among wild birds and poultry for 25 years, but the recent spillover to mammals needs to be closely monitored,” he warned.
In January, a 9-year-old girl in Ecuador became the first reported case of human infection in Latin America and the Caribbean. She was treated with antiviral drugs.
Tedros said earlier this month that the WHO still estimates the risk of bird flu to humans as low.
“But we cannot assume that this will continue and we must prepare for any change in the status quo,” he said. He advised people not to touch dead or sick wild animals and land to increase surveillance of environments where humans and animals interact.