Two die of avian flu in Cambodia, China

Mar 24, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Avian influenza has killed a 3-year-old girl in Cambodia and a 29-year-old woman in China, pushing the global toll from the H5N1 virus to 105 deaths out of 186 cases, the World Health Organization announced today.

The Cambodian girl was the fifth person in her country to die of the illness and the first since April 2005. She fell ill Mar 14, was hospitalized Mar 21, and died the next day, the WHO said, citing information from the Cambodian government.

Samples from the girl tested positive at the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia, the agency said.

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today said the girl, named Mon Vuthy, came from the village of Phum Prich, about 28 miles west of Phnom Penh, the capital.

Chickens in the village began dying in February, and she was known to have played with sick chickens, the WHO said.

WHO and Cambodian investigators found seven people in the village who were ill with fever but had no respiratory symptoms, the agency said. All had had contact with sick birds or had been involved in caring for the girl. Though their symptoms were not consistent with H5N1 infection, they are being tested and are under medical observation, the WHO said.

At least 42 other people who had contact with the girl or the seven people under observation are also being tested, AFP reported.

Most people in the victim's village keep chickens or ducks, and nearly all said they had eaten poultry that had been sick, according to AFP.

In China, the health ministry said a 29-year-old woman who was a migrant worker died of avian flu in a Shanghai hospital Mar 21, according to the WHO. She had been hospitalized since Mar 15.

Her case was the first reported in Shanghai, the WHO said. China now has had 16 human H5N1 cases, including 11 deaths.

The agency said the woman's source of infection is under investigation. No poultry outbreaks of H5N1 have been reported in the Shanghai area since February 2004.

In related news this week, Finland said yesterday it had ordered 5.2 million doses of an H5N1 vaccine, enough to cover its entire population, according to an AFP report. The Dutch company Solvay Pharmaceuticals will produce the vaccine for 20.8 million euros, or about $25 million.

The Finnish National Public Health Institute said the vaccine would be used if the H5N1 virus evolves into a pandemic strain, AFP reported. Clinical studies to determine the vaccine formulation and dosage are to be conducted in coming months.

Finnish officials said the vaccine should provide some protection if the H5N1 virus leads to a pandemic. But to provide for better protection, the government has also signed a contract with Solvay for 5.5 million doses of a future vaccine to be developed after the emergence of a pandemic virus, according to AFP.

Also this week, the head of the WHO once again urged governments to prepare for a pandemic. "We urge and plead countries to be prepared," said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, in comments reported Mar 22 by AFP.

"About 50 countries have concrete plans," Lee said. "All others are scrambling to have a plan. . . . We have to take advantage of this window of opportunity."

See also:

WHO statement on case in China

WHO statement on Cambodian case

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