The H5N1 bird flu has infected the father of an 11-year-old Cambodian girl who recently died of the virus, World Health Organization officials said Friday, as they awaited test results from 11 additional contacts of the girl.
The WHO “urges heightened vigilance from all countries,” Dr. Sylvie Briand, director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness and Emergency Preparedness for the organization, said at a news conference. WHO officials were conferencing with Cambodian health officials as she spoke.
The virus is “worrying, given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and increasing reports of cases in mammals, including humans,” she said. She characterized the virus as a “several respiratory disease with a range of symptoms, from mild to fatal.”
The mortality rate is over 50%, she added.
The girl, from the southeastern province of Prey Veng, reportedly became ill Feb. 16, suffering from a 102-degree fever, cough, and throat pain, according to a tweet from the Cambodian government. She died shortly after arriving at a hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh, the Associated Press reported, citing the country’s health ministry.
The Khmer Times, a Cambodian news outlet, reported Thursday that 12 additional people from Prey Veng had been infected, also citing the health ministry. Four of the 12 have begun to show symptoms, and results of lab testing should be released Friday, according to the Times, making it unclear if any had been officially diagnosed as of the article’s publication.
Recent days have brought increased reports of H5N1 bird flu spreading among mammals throughout the world—a situation that must be “monitored closely” owing to their physiological similarities with humans, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a Feb. 8 news conference.
H5N1 avian flu, rare in humans, is almost always transmitted by direct contact with sick birds. Only rarely have human cases occurred over the quarter century it’s been known to exist, with no sustained transmission reported among humans.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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