Seven Cambodia sick people tested for bird flu

Seven sick people in Cambodia are being tested for bird flu, the World Health Organization said Friday, as it confirmed that the recent death of a 3-year-old girl from the same southern village was caused by the deadly H5N1 virus. Three children and four adults from Tuol Prik in Kampong Speu province, about 45 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital, Phnom Penh, came down with fevers and cold symptoms after having direct contact with sick fowl or with the girl who died, said Megge Miller, a WHO epidemiologist based in Cambodia.

There is a "possibility" they were infected with H5N1, Miller said. "We're being just very cautious. We're treating it very seriously." Test results, sent to the French Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh , were expected by early next week, she said. A cross-check of the results would be sent to the Pasteur Institute in Paris or another WHO-affiliated lab, she said.

The 3-year-old girl, named Mon Puthy, also from Tuol Prik, died Tuesday at a hospital in Phnom Penh . The girl was Cambodia 's fifth fatality from the disease since the start of 2005, and the first this year, the WHO and the Ministry of Health said in a joint statement.

The victim's parents said five chickens in their flock of 20 died prior to her daughter's illness. She said she cooked the dead fowl and ate it with her daughter. Three days after the child came down with high fever, her father took her to doctors who were unable to diagnose what was wrong.

"A local nurse told me my child had a respiratory infection," said Choeun Uork, her father, who was then sent to a local hospital "where another doctor told me she had a severe lung infection." She died within a week of coming down with high fever, the WHO statement said.

According to WHO statistics, 103 people in eight countries, mostly in Asia , have died from the virus. Most human infections have been linked to direct contact with infected birds.

Poultry had been dying since February in the area around Tuol Prik, according to Miller, who said that according to the girl's parents, she had been playing with sick birds a few days before she fell ill.

The virus has killed or prompted the slaughter of 200 million birds worldwide since 2003. Earlier this month, the U.N. agriculture agency said Cambodian officials should expand their surveillance of wild and migratory birds from Southeast Asia to Europe and Africa as part of measures to halt the spread of the H5N1 virus.

" Cambodia , with 60 percent of the land under forest cover and with many wetland areas, is home to millions of wild birds," the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement. The country is also an important transit point for many birds that migrate between the northern and southern hemispheres, FAO said, reports the AP.

N.U.