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Posted at 10:13 AM ET, 07/09/2012

What is the ‘mystery illness’ killing Cambodian children?

A mysterious illness that has caused the deaths of 60-some Cambodian children in recent weeks might be hand, foot and mouth disease, according to reports from CNN.

Specialists at the Institut Pasteur in Cambodia tested dozens of samples from Cambodian children who experienced neurological and respiratory symptoms, and 15 of them tested positive for Enterovirus Type 71, the scientific name for the common childhood ailment, the AP reported.


Mean Thida, 4, affected with a ‘mystery disease,’ sleeps at her home near a dump site at Sambour village, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 9, 2012. (Heng Sinith - Associated Press)

Despite the findings, the World Health Organization said it was continuing to investigate: A “WHO representative made clear the tests at this point have not solved the mystery of the unnamed illness. More tests are being done at laboratories,” according to CNN.

Although exact numbers vary, CNN reports that since April, 66 Cambodian children were admitted to area hospitals, and all but two died.

So what is Enterovirus Type 71?

It’s a virus that can cause paralysis, brain swelling and death, according to the AP, and it gets its name from the rash it causes on the hands and feet.

While there is no vaccine, those affected with hand, foot and mouth disease usually recover quickly. However, virulent strains, such as the EV-71, can prove fatal, and the virus has already killed at least 18 children this year in Vietnam, according to AlertNet.

AlertNet reported that “the disease has already infected over 28,000 children in the Southeast Asian country this year, more than 10 times the number of children infected in the same period last year.”

Although people can recover from the disease within a matter of days, differences in patients’ immune systems cause some cases to develop into serious complications and even death.

“In some cases it has the predilection to hit the brain stem region, which may explain the complications seen in the Cambodian patients,” Malik Peiris, chair professor in virology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, told Bloomberg.

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through “close personal contact, coughing and sneezing, contact with feces and touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them,” according to the CDC, and frequent hand-washing can help prevent it.

The virus is distinct from (but frequently confused with) foot and mouth disease, which is an infectious virus that affects hoofed animals.

Cambodia isn’t the only nation that’s been battling the problem recently, according to the AP:

“China is also experiencing an outbreak, and more than 240 people have died of the disease there this year, according to China’s Health Ministry.”

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By  |  10:13 AM ET, 07/09/2012

Tags:  World

 
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