A joint investigation by the Cambodian Government and the United Nations has found that a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) was the cause of the majority of recent illnesses and deaths in children reported in the country.
Following reports from a children's hospital of unusual numbers of illnesses and deaths among children hospitalized since April, the Cambodian Ministry of Health, with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, conducted an investigation which identified 78 cases of HFMD, 54 of which resulted in deaths.
HFMD is a common infectious disease of infants and children. It is spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva, or faeces of an infected person. It typically occurs in small epidemics in nursery schools or kindergartens, usually during the summer and autumn months. Nearly all patients recover in 10 days without medical treatment, and complications are uncommon.
All but one of 62 children admitted in hospitals since April with severe respiratory illness with neurological symptoms had died.
The majority of the infected children came from southern parts of Cambodia.
"The investigation revealed that most of the cases were under three years old, with some suffering with chronic conditions and malnutrition," WHO and the Ministry of Health said in a joint news release. "The cases were from 14 different provinces and many of them were given steroids at some point during their illness. Steroid use has been shown to worsen the condition of patients with EV-71 virus, which causes HFMD."
In response to this event, Cambodian authorities, with support from WHO, have enhanced surveillance to identify symptoms of the disease and are developing guidelines and training courses for management of HFMD patients.
The Government is also working on a campaign to raise awareness on prevention, identification and care of children with HFMD.
The disease - which is not new in Cambodia - can be prevented with good hygiene. Frequent washing of hands with soap and water, especially after touching any blister or sore, before preparing food and eating, before feeding young infants, after using toilets and after cleaning children.
by RTT Staff Writer
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