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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia's mystery illness diagnosed as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Cambodia's mystery illness diagnosed as Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

KanthaBophaDoctor

A Cambodian doctor (L) checking a child (C) at Kantha Bopha children's hospital in Phnom Penh. Photograph: AFP PHOTO / Khem Sovannara

A Cambodian doctor (L) checking a child (C) at Kantha Bopha children's hospital in Phnom Penh. Photograph: AFP PHOTO / Khem Sovannara

There is no mystery about Cambodia’s “mysterious disease” the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization said at a press conference on Friday.

The 54 deaths investigated by the MoH and WHO were due to a severe form of a worldwide common disease – Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, they said.

“HFMD is a widespread disease,” said WHO’s Dr Nima Asgari.

He added that there is no specific treatment or vaccine for HFMD, and most patients recover in seven to ten days.

Drinking more water and seeking treatment from hospitals as soon as possible are the advice given to parents by MoH.

The use of steroids, officials said, makes the HFMD cases worse, or even kills the children. Among the 61 severe cases identified by MoH, 48 of them were treated with steroids.

Officials said they could not say the disease is contained, but they were improving surveillance of severe and mild HFMD cases nationwide.

Five sentinel hospitals were set by the MoH in Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Prey Veng and Kratie to enhance the surveillance nationwide, said Sok Touch, Director of the Ministry of Health's communicable disease control department.

Other Asian countries have seen HFMD breakout this year as well. Vietnam identified 58,000 cases and 29 deaths, while China saw 890,000 cases and 242 deaths this year, said Asgari.

But he added that this could not indicate the scope of the disease in Cambodia.

It is very hard to predict the total number of cases or the trend of new cases based on the number of severe cases, he said.

The Ministry has no plan to close schools or kindergartens, he highlighted, as no evidence shows that the closure can help control the contagious disease.

Beat Richner, the founding father of Kantha Bopha Hospitals who first alerted the government to the disease, is still suspicious of the government’s conclusion.

Richner believed that drug intoxication might have caused the death of children, and he is awaiting the results of his own toxicology testing.

The testing will be finished about next Tuesday, said Dr Denis Laurent from Kantha Bopha Hospitals.

To contact the reporter on this story: Xiaoqing Pi at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com

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