Mystery disease kills more than 60 children in Cambodia
A physician's stethoscope is shown in this file photo.
Published Wednesday, July 4, 2012 10:18AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 4, 2012 1:18PM EDT
A mysterious and seemingly fast-acting illness has killed more than 60 young children in Cambodia in three months. Now, the World Health Organization is saying it is investigating.
The Cambodian Health Ministry and the World Health Organization released a joint statement Wednesday that said they are investigating the disease, which causes a high fever, severe breathing problems and neurological symptoms.
At least 62 children under the age of seven have been admitted to hospitals in Cambodia with the illness. Of them, 61 have died within one to two days of hospital admission. Most were under the age of three.
While most of the cases have come from southern Cambodia, there appears to be no “case clusters” or apparent links between them. It’s still not clear whether the disease is contagious.
The WHO said in a June 30 report that the symptoms of those afflicted appear ”unusual." Patients suffer from fever and a rapid deterioration of breathing, but their blood platelet counts, liver and kidney functions – which often change during infections -- stay normal.
The WHO said it has offered the Cambodia Ministry of Health technical assistance to help find the source of the illness. The statement quoted Health Minister Man Bung Heng as saying identification of the cause may take some time.
The health ministries in neighbouring countries have also been told to be on the lookout for the illness.
Infectious diseases expert Dr. Neil Rau, who is not involved in the investigations, tells CTVNews.ca that the illness could be spread person-to-person, or it could come from the environment, such as from an animal or water source.
He says it will be important to conduct thorough blood tests and to track how the illness has spread in order to answer that question.
Rau says it’s also possible that the 62 hospitalized children are the most severe cases and that there are others who are mildly ill but who have not gone to hospital for treatment. He notes that infections that are passed person to person typically have a wide spectrum of illness.