Agence France Presse
PHNOM PENH - It’s not bird flu or Sars, and nor does it appear to be contagious, but little more is known about a mysterious disease that has killed dozens of Cambodian children, some within 24 hours of being hospitalised.
Medical experts are scrambling to respond to what the Cambodian health ministry and World Health Organisation (WHO) have labelled an “undiagnosed syndrome” that has claimed the lives of at least 56 boys and girls, mostly toddlers, since April.
Officials said just one child was believed to have survived the illness and the high fatality rate has spread concern among Cambodians, 30 per cent of whom live below the poverty line according to the World Bank.
The WHO has put neighbouring countries on alert about the killer disease that starts with a high fever and is followed by respiratory and neurologic symptoms “with rapid deterioration of respiratory functions”.
There have been no cases reported outside Cambodia so far.
“We are looking at detailed information from the hospital records and analysing each and every case. We hope to have a better picture in the coming days,” said Ly Sovann, deputy director of Cambodia’s Communicable Disease Control Department in a joint statement with the WHO on Friday.
Paediatrician Beat Richner, the founder of Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals, which see around 85 per cent of Cambodia’s severely ill youngsters who make it to treatment, was the first to raise the alert over the illness.
The Swiss doctor, who told Cambodian health officials about the illness last month, gave a higher toll than the WHO, saying 64 children had died from the disease since mid-April, while two more had recovered.