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Cambodian and international health officials said Wednesday they are investigating an unexplained disease that has killed more than 60 children since early April in the small Southeast Asian country.
The Cambodia Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization said in a joint statement that the unknown respiratory disease also involved neurological symptoms, and that only one of 62 children admitted to hospitals with the illness survived. The illness typically began with high fevers followed by respiratory or neurological problems, with rapid deterioration of respiratory functions.
"We can't make any conclusions yet," said Ly Sovann, an official at Cambodia's Ministry of Health reached by phone Wednesday night. "We need to have further investigations," he said, adding, "we are not on alert yet" for wider problems.
"The cause of the disease may not be new, but the scale at which it is occurring has not been observed in recent years," the WHO said in an email sent to The Wall Street Journal. "Possible causes of the disease are being considered but definite identification may take some time."
An unidentified disease has killed 60 young children in Cambodia in three months, the World Health Organization said Tuesday as it raced to identify the cause. "The number of deaths reported to WHO is 60 cases and they have all been in young children," said Dr Nima Asgari, a public health specialist for the UN body in Cambodia, adding that the first casualties were reported in April. The WHO is currently working with the Cambodian Ministry of Health "to identify the cause and the route of spread of this disease", he said. With the investigation still at an early stage, Asgari said it was difficult to specify the symptoms, which "include high fever and severe chest disease symptoms, plus in some children there were signs of neurological involvement". There have been 61 reported cases so far, Asgari said, with just one patient surviving. The victims, all aged seven and under, were admitted to hospitals in the capital Phnom Penh and the northwestern tourist hub of Siem Reap. In separate comments the WHO said there were no signs yet of contagion. "To date, there is no report of any staff or any neighbouring patients to the cases at the hospitals becoming sick with similar symptoms," it said. Asgari confirmed there was "no cluster of the cases yet" but said the high mortality rate in such a short space of time was worrisome. "WHO is always concerned about a disease which causes death in such high numbers of children," he said. Cambodian health ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
The last measles outbreaks were in 2010/11, and were brought under control through national and sub national measles supplementary immunization activities that targeted 1.8 million children. No confirmed measles cases have been detected since November 2011.
In addition to measles vaccine, the immunization teams will also provide vitamin A and deworming tablet to all children, with children in high risk areas also receiving a “catch-up dose” of oral polio vaccine.