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UN health agency probes new human bird flu death, this time from Cambodia

UN health agency probes new human bird flu death, this time from Cambodia

The current human outbreak of bird flu has spread to Cambodia, killing a woman after 13 reported cases in neighbouring Viet Nam since mid-December, 12 of them fatal, according to the United Nations health agency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Cambodian authorities have sent a joint mission to Kampot province to investigate the circumstances of this latest case, the first reported in Cambodia of H5N1 infection, which last year sickened some 50 people, over three dozen of them fatally, and resulted in the deaths or culling of more than 100 million birds in nearly a dozen Asian countries.

WHO has repeatedly warned that in a worst-case scenario the outbreak could give rise to a new human virus with pandemic potential. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-20, which was not related to bird flu, is estimated to have killed 20 million people worldwide.

The 25-year-old woman from Kampot province developed respiratory symptoms on 21 January, sought medical care in neighbouring Viet Nam on 27 January and died in Kien Giang Provincial hospital there on 30 January. Tests undertaken at the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, were positive for bird flu, it added.

Three more people are reported to have died of the disease in Viet Nam and if confirmed by the Ministry of Health, these latest three cases will bring to 13 the total number of human H5N1 cases, excluding the Cambodian woman, identified there since mid-December.

WHO has warned that cooler winter temperatures and increased poultry marketing, transportation and consumption linked to the Lunar New Year this month could increase the risk of further human cases.