Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia at ‘high’ risk of Zika outbreak in 2017

Cambodia at ‘high’ risk of Zika outbreak in 2017

Health officials collect mosquito larvae from a water container in Phnom Penh earlier this year during a monitoring program for the Zika virus. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP
Health officials collect mosquito larvae from a water container in Phnom Penh earlier this year during a monitoring program for the Zika virus. Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

Cambodia at ‘high’ risk of Zika outbreak in 2017

Amid reports of the emergence of the Zika virus in Myanmar and the discovery of the first birth defect believed linked to the virus in Vietnam, two researchers with Phnom Penh’s Pasteur Institute have concluded that Cambodia is at high risk of its own Zika outbreak in 2017.

The findings appeared to be corroborated by a recent WHO risk assessment for the region, which noted the possibility of “new outbreaks”.

The Kingdom saw seven Zika cases between 2007 and 2010, but no recent cases have been reported despite outbreaks in Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, and reported cases in other Southeast Asian nations.

However, in a brief analysis on the Zika virus in Cambodia recently posted on the Pasteur Institute’s website, Dr Didier Fontenille and Dr Philippe Dussart concluded that next year could be ripe for an outbreak in Cambodia.

“The risk of Zika is negligible at the moment in Cambodia, but not in neighbouring countries,” the short analysis reads. “However, the risk of outbreak in Cambodia in 2017 appears high.”

The Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which can also transmit the dengue virus, the researchers point out. Dengue rates this year have skyrocketed thanks to a cyclical upswing in Aedes breeding.

The doctors also maintained that the virus had reappeared in Cambodia in 2015, though the WHO yesterday said it was unaware of any such case.

Neither Fontenille nor Dussart could be reached yesterday to offer greater detail on how they reached their conclusions. However, the WHO’s Western Pacific Region earlier this month conducted a Zika regional risk assessment that also concluded that it’s “highly likely” the region will continue to see Zika reports and possibly “new outbreaks”.

The finding was attributed to the distribution of the “competent vector” in the region – Aedes mosquitoes – and the frequency of travel to and from endemic and affected areas, as well as the fact that some populations lack immunity to the virus.

Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann, also director of the ministry’s Department of Communicable Diseases, declined to comment on the assessments yesterday.

Sopha Chum, executive director of the NGO Health and Development Alliance, said Cambodia’s capacity to handle a Zika outbreak was “in question”. Many hospitals lack the capacity to even detect cases in order to prevent an outbreak, he added.

“How effective [the response] would be? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s my question.”

Vicky Houssiere, WHO communications officer in Cambodia, said she wasn’t able to comment on the conclusion reached by Fontenille and Dussart but noted that the WHO’s risk assessment did highlight “possibly new outbreaks”.

“This is the second-most affected region at the moment,” she said.

Officials in Cambodia are aware of the issue and are concerned, Houssiere added. “They are continuing their process to get prepared,” she said.

Officials earlier this year deployed thermal scanners at the airports and main border checkpoints, and provinces with a high mosquito density or close to the Thai border to fumigate to eliminate mosquitoes potentially carrying the virus.

Despite the Pasteur Institute’s missive alluding to dengue, and despite the number of reported dengue fever cases doubling during the first five months of the year, Rithea Leang, the national dengue control program manager, said he wasn’t aware of a study that pointed to “whether there is a correlation between dengue fever cases and Zika”.

MOST VIEWED

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • Khmer cinema classics back on big screen for free at WB Arena’s outdoor movies series

    On a recent Saturday evening at WB Arena, Bunsong was enjoying a tasty BBQ meal with his family after work on the long tables that had been arranged out in front of the restaurant as they watched a Khmer action movie on a big outdoor

  • PM heads to Washington for ASEAN-US special summit

    Regional and international issues and how to bring the ASEAN-US partnership to another level will be discussed at length as Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ministers arrive in Washington, DC, for a special summit on May 12-13. During the trip, Hun Sen and ASEAN

  • National Assembly refutes EU resolution

    The National Assembly (NA) has hit back at a European Parliament resolution condemning the political and human rights situation in Cambodia, calling it another display of the Parliament’s “double standards”. Key points of the resolution include a warning that the Parliament could exclude the