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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

8-year-old boy is Cambodia's first bird flu fatality this year

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Health officials confirmed Wednesday that an 8-year-old boy is the first person in Cambodia this year to die of bird flu.

The Health Ministry and the World Health Organization said that the boy from the eastern province of Kratie died on Feb. 7 after showing symptoms of the H5N1 virus.

It said the boy's 2-year-old sister died the same day. She had the same symptoms, but the virus wasn't confirmed.

The virus normally spreads between poultry, but can sometimes spread from poultry to humans. The Health Ministry said the children had contact with chickens that had died en masse without a known cause.

There have been 49 confirmed cases of bird flu since the disease surfaced in Cambodia in 2005, and only 15 victims have survived.

Thirty-seven of the 49 cases have been children under 14 years old.

"Children often care for domestic poultry by feeding them, cleaning pens and gathering eggs. Children may also have closer contact with poultry as they often treat them as pets and also seem to be the most vulnerable and are at high risk because they like to play where poultry are found," Health Minister Mam Bunheng said. "I urge parents and guardians to keep children away from sick or dead poultry and prevent them from playing with chickens and ducks."

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