More than 70 students at a Pursat high school have fainted over the last week, with some officials attributing the incidents to unhappy spirits at the school, whereas health officials said they believed the students were likely caused by minor health issues.
Veal Veng district governor Vong Eng said on Monday that students had been fainting at the school starting February 1 till Sunday. He said two students had fainted on the first day, followed by four, 13 and two fainting incidents over the next three days.
A total of 73 students had fainted since February 1, he said.
In light of the faintings, the school organized a religious ceremony on Sunday, inviting parents and students to placate the spirits with food offerings. But an additional 52 students fainted at the ceremony, Eng said, necessitating additional prayers Sunday night.
“The spirits made us have even more symptoms. So last night, we prayed again, appealed and begged again, and saw that those who had fallen sick got better,” he said.
Eng said he did not think the students had any health concerns and attributed the spiritual anomaly to the school’s failure to make offerings to the spirits after construction of the school was recently completed.
The high school’s principal, Ping Sokha, declined to comment or provide details about the faintings, and only said that he and the authorities were resolving the matter.
Veal Veng district police Theang Leng only said the school’s principal had decided to give students a break for a few days and that most of the students had recovered and left the clinic.
Tek Sopheap, the deputy director of Pursat’s health department, said doctors had examined and treated the students, and found no serious problems with their health. He said the faintings could have been caused by a variety of health reasons.
“Firstly, I think this can be from not eating enough. Secondly, this can be related to lack of rest,” he said. “And importantly, when you see a young person fainting like this, most of them were women, they also fainted seeing the others faint.”
Mass faintings are more common in Cambodia’s garment factories, with various reasons attributed for this phenomenon. Experts and research have said mass faintings can be linked to poor ventilation in factories or low nutrition and wellness among workers, while authorities also say some of these incidents were triggered by spirits.