July 10, 2012

Childhood Illness Spreads In Cambodia

Connie K. Ho for - Your Universe Online

The Health Ministry of Cambodia and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that a virus connected to hand, foot, and mouth disease may be the mysterious cause of illness in a number of children in Cambodia that began in April.

According to Reuters Health, hand, foot, and mouth disease is generally found in infants and children. The illness, otherwise known as EV-71, is spread through direct contact of the feces, mucus, or saliva of someone who is infected with the disease. EV-71 can be particularly dangerous as it causes brain swelling, paralysis, and death. Small epidemics usually happen in kindergartens or nursery schools. Recently, lab tests confirmed that 59 cases have involved children who are as young as three months and as old as 11 years; the majority of children were three years old. From all the cases, 52 had died but samples were not available for many of the cases.

"Based on the latest laboratory results, a significant proportion of the samples tested positive for Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), which causes hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). The EV-71 has been known to generally cause severe complications among some patients," noted the joint statement from the Health Ministry of Cambodia and WHO.

Furthermore, epidemiologists are working to understand the cases by interviewing parents. They hope to clear up any details that were omitted from medical charts and specimens. The statement also acknowledged that pathogens such as dengue and streptococcus suis, a pig pathogen, were found.

"Further investigation is ongoing and this includes the matching of the laboratory and epidemiological information. We hope to be able to conclude our investigation in the coming days," commented Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bun Heng in the statement.

On July 3, the WHO stated that it would be assisting Cambodia in the investigation of the deaths of about 60 children who had died within 24 hours of admittance to hospitals in either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, a northern town in the country. The children were described as having high fevers and encephalitic or respiratory symptoms.

"As far as I'm aware, EV-71 was not identified as a virus in Cambodia before," Dr. Nima Asgari, lead WHO investigator, told the Associated Press. "We are a bit more confident. We are hoping that we can come up with something a bit more conclusive in the next day or so.”

According to the Associated Press, other neighboring Asian countries have been battling cases of the hand, foot and mouth disease. Obvious symptoms of the illness include a rash and, in the Cambodian cases, blistering. Vietnam has seen a surge of cases in the past few years. The disease affected more than 110,000 civilians and killed 166 people this past year. Many of those who died from the disease were young children whose immune systems were not strong enough to protect against the illness. Likewise, according to the Chinese Health Ministry, China is suffering an outbreak with more than 240 people that have died from the disease.