05/07/2012 – International and national health authorities working in Cambodia have ruled out an alphavirus, dengue fever and influenza as causes of the unknown illness that has claimed the lives of at least 61 children.
Cambodian and international health authorities are trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious illness that has so far claimed the lives of more than 60 children in the country since April of this year. The youngest of the children was three months while the oldest was seven years old.
Symptoms of this “undiagnosed syndrome” include severe fever, respiratory problems, swelling of the brain and, sometimes, neurological problems. Respiratory functions are reported to deteriorate rapidly with most of the children dying from symptoms of pneumonia within 24 hours. The rest died within three days.
At present, the World Health Organization (WHO) is unsure of whether or not a new or established disease is responsible for the deaths.
So far, dengue fever and the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus have been ruled out as causes of the deaths. It is also unlikely to be influenza, says one health official.
“This can be a mixture of a number of known diseases—virological, bacterial or toxicological—which have been reported as one syndrome or something new," Dr. Nima Asgari, of the national WHO office informed CNN.
Only one of the 62 infected children has survived, according to one press release. That child is still in hospital. However, a doctor at the hospital where the first cases were discovered recently told Al Jazeera that the number of cases reached 66 with two surviving.
A joint statement by the WHO and the Ministry of Health said that they first became aware of the disease from a doctor at the Kantha Bopha Hospital. The healthcare facility is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital located on the Mekong River coast in the southern part of the country. All of the sick kids came from 14 provinces in southern and central Cambodia, though the disease has not clustered in a particular area.
The identification of the disease is expected to take some time. However, it does not appear to be contagious, as neither staff nor people around the hospitalized children have contracted the elusive illness.
But, one doctor worries that drug interactions and incorrect treatments are behind the deterioration of the lungs and untreatable pneumonia, local media reports.
As per global health regulations, neighbouring countries have been made aware of the situation. The investigation by health authorities in Cambodia, supported by the WHO, is ongoing.