An 11-year-old girl from Cambodia has died from bird flu, health officials have said, the first person in the country to die from the infection since 2014.
The girl was from the rural province of Prey Veng, in south-eastern Cambodia, and became ill on 16 February.
She went to hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh, where she was diagnosed on Wednesday with the flu after suffering a fever, coughing and throat pain, before dying shortly after, the health ministry said.
Local officials have taken samples from dead birds at a conservation area near the girl’s home, with teams in the region warning residents about touching dead and ill birds.
Avian influenza usually spreads through poultry, and was not deemed to be a threat to humans until a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong, with most cases in people involving direct contact with infected birds.
However, there have been fears that the virus could have evolved to spread more easily between people.
Mam Bunheng, Cambodia’s health minister, said that bird flu poses a particular threat to children, who may be collecting eggs from domestic poultry or playing with birds and cleaning their cages.
Symptoms of the flu, known officially as H5N1, are similar to those of other flus, and include a cough, aches and fever, and in some cases, cause life-threatening pneumonia.
Between 2003 and 2014, Cambodia had 56 cases of H5N1, 37 of which were fatal, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In total, 870 people worldwide have been infected, and 457 deaths have been reported in 21 countries.
But in the last seven years, the pace has slowed, with only around 170 infections and 50 deaths.
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WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently express concern about bird flu in mammals, warning: “H5N1 has spread widely in wild birds and poultry for 25 years, but the recent spillover to mammals needs to be monitored closely.”
He added the WHO still assesses the risk of bird flu in humans as low.
“But we cannot assume that will remain the case, and we must prepare for any change in the status quo,” he said.
He advised people not to touch dead or sick wild animals, and for nations to strengthen their surveillance of settings where people and animals interact.