A United Nations disease expert has warned globalisation is creating more opportunities for diseases to spread from animals to humans, following recent deaths from bird flu in Cambodia.
A young Cambodian mother and her baby have died from bird flu, after preparing and eating infected poultry.
Earlier this month a 5-year-old Cambodian girl also died from bird flu, the first such death worldwide since early 2010.
Dr Subhash Morzaria, the regional manager of the UN Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases, says people are making themselves more vulnerable to diseases from animals.
Dr Morzaria says farming systems, high population of domestic animals for food consumption, high human population and increased deforestation are factors in the threat of disease.
“There is greater contact between different animal species and human beings, and this is really going to enhance opportunities for pathogens to jump from one species to another,” he said.
But it’s not just Cambodia at risk. Many Asian countries remain vulnerable to animal diseases crossing over to humans.
In Asia the hotspots are Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and West Bengal. Dr Subhash Morzaria says Japan has emerged as a new risk.
“The virus is being actually spread by wild birds,” Dr Morzaria said.
“So we now know that wild birds are infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N1 virus.
“And [the wild birds] then shed the virus when they’re migrating to Japan. Somehow the virus is then jumping to the poultry and causes these huge outbreaks.”
Bird flu was initially controlled in Japan and this re-emergence in a developed nation is a major concern to health workers.
But Dr Morzaria says most transmissions of bird flu still occur through raising or trading in poultry and he says that is where the resources should stay.
Dr Subhash Morzaria says the most effective prevention will occur if governments work together.
“What happens in Cambodia has a relevance in Australia and in the UK and in Japan. No one country can deal with a potentially very complex issue,” he said.