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Ask the doctor: Cambodia’s virus scare demystified


Despite global alarm surrounding the recent breakout in Cambodia, the Enterovirus 71 is a common virus that causes hand, foot, mouth disease in children. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post

The Phnom Penh Post has partnered with licensed doctors from the International SOS Clinic to answer readers’ medical questions every first Wednesday of the month. Send your medical questions to

What exactly is EV71? A new virus?
The Enterovirus 71(EV71) is not a new virus. It actually belongs to the second most common type of virus after common cold and causes a more severe form of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD). EV71 is transmitted through any direct contact with saliva, discharge from the nose and throat, fluid from blisters or stools of an infected person. Cases are most infectious during the first week of acute illness. It is a very transmissible illness that has drawn attention from all over the world with the recent outbreak in Cambodia. Outbreaks occur every year in Southeast Asia and over the past 15 years outbreaks have been reported in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China and now in Cambodia. More than 90 per cent of the infections occur in children under the age of five and the incidence of infection is higher in the summer and autumn months in temperate climates while remaining prevalent year-round in tropical climates.

I am living in Phnom Penh with my two young children; do I have to worry about HFMD?
Most cases of HFMD are mild and have no complications but certainly HFMD (hand foot mouth disease) nowadays is something to worry about, especially living in Cambodia, where recently numerous fatal cases has been linked to this disease. It is important for parents and child-minders to keep children away from public places, like playgrounds. As we know the disease spreads easily by direct contact from contaminated objects. ISOS Clinic has taken precaution by removing toys from the waiting area to prevent any likely transmission of the disease. Consult immediately with your trusted doctor should your child suddenly develop any fever with small skin lesions on hands or feet.

What measures can I take for my child to avoid HFMD? Is there a vaccine?
The actions we can take as parents, teachers, community leaders, health care providers, etc, are to provide basic but important information about safety and hygiene, careful and regular washing of hands, the use of sanitisers, cleaning and disinfecting toys, avoiding close contact to possible carriers as well as avoidance of public places, and even schools in times of outbreak. Presently there is no vaccine to prevent EV71 infection, although much research is being done to develop one. As viruses are constantly evolving in their quest for survival, researchers will definitely be looking for any signs of change to the EV71 virus that has now been isolated from these Cambodian children.

I plan to go to Kampot for the week-end with my family. Do I have to cancel?
I’m skeptical about the news of HFMD concentrating in the south of Cambodia. This area was the last regional centre to report any outbreak to the Ministry of Health. Your plan to travel to Kampot doesn’t have to be altered because your children will not attend schools, playgrounds, daycare facilities or places where they might be exposed to/have contact with the virus.

This week’s guest columnists are Dr Narith Tan and Dr Nelson Velez. Dr Tan is the Acting Chief Medical Officer for International SOS, Cambodia, and has 12 years of service at the clinic in Phnom Penh. He is well experienced with local health conditions and disease trends. Dr Velez is an Ecuadorian/American General practitioner for International SOS Cambodia. He is also specialised in Tropical Medicine and Plastic Surgery.
This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. You must not rely on the information as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.



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