PHNOM PENH—A deadly strain of bird flu has reappeared in Cambodia, officials say, while Thai authorities now suspect the virus may have killed two children.
The disease killed at least 28 people in Asia earlier this year and forced farmers to cull almost 200 million birds across 10 Asian countries. It jumped from birds to people in Vietnam and Thailand, causing human deaths there.
A new study, meanwhile, has found that the flu can also infect cats—who can spread the disease to one another. This increases the possibility that they could eventually infect other mammals, including humans.
The Cambodian government is now worried because villagers ate birds that had died of the deadly virus, officials said.
People in one village just outside Phnom Penh, including the owner of a farm where 5,000 chickens died in two days, said they took cooked and ate dead birds—and whether the birds were cooked at high enough temperatures to kill the virus is unknown.
All those who have died of the H5N1 virus, which has also recurred in Thailand, Vietnam and China in recent weeks as well as striking in Malaysia for the first time, were infected by the virus from handling birds that had died of it.
H5N1 cannot currently pass from person to person, but scientists fear that if the virus does acquire this ability, it could pose a serious threat to millions.
Bird flu was found in 12 areas of Cambodia during the epidemic. There were no human victims in the country, but more than 30,000 chickens, ducks and other fowl were slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading.
In Thailand, the Health Ministry reported that laboratory tests were under way after two children died in Kamphang Phet Province, 360 kms (225 miles) north of Bangkok following the deaths of chickens at their homes.
An 11-year-old girl died from a severe lung infection Sept. 12 after five chickens raised by her family died late last month, it said. A 13-year-old boy died Sept. 21 after being ill for a week following the death of 20 chickens at his home.
In Malaysia, veterinary workers found two new cases of bird flu Sept. 23 in a quarantined northern state that has resisted intensive eradication efforts since the disease first erupted in Malaysia five weeks ago.
Inspectors discovered bird flu in a total of 11 wild chickens in two villages, both within districts where it was discovered in recent weeks in the northern state of Kelantan.
The concern about species-to-species transmission is that it increases the risk of developing a virus strain that is easily transmissible from human to human... It is such a strain which could trigger the pandemic that many experts have been predicting.
Workers were to begin gassing all birds within a 1-km zone around the infected villages, adding to the 7,000 chickens, ducks, and other birds culled since the first outbreak Aug. 17. Malaysia has so far avoided any cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
A new study published in the journal Science found that the virus has the potential to spread through cats—contradicting the widely held view that domestic cats cannot catch diseases caused by influenza A viruses such as H5N1.
Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam say their findings may mean cats could spread the virus to humans and raise the possibility that the virus might evolve in such a way as to infect other species.
Cats “should be considered as a potential source of infection for humans on farms where poultry are infected with H5N1 virus, and where cats have access to these poultry or their feces," said study author Thijs Kuiken.
"Cats also should be considered as a potential source of infection for humans if they have been fed on carcasses of poultry infected with H5N1 virus."
"The concern about species-to-species transmission is that it increases the risk of developing a virus strain that is easily transmissible from human to human," Kuiken said. "It is such a strain which could trigger the pandemic that many experts have been predicting."