DOH ramps up monitoring vs mystery illness from Cambodia
Increased monitoring against the 'mystery illness' affecting children in Cambodia are being put in place to prevent it from entering the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Increased monitoring against the “mystery illness” affecting children in Cambodia are being put in place to prevent it from entering the Philippines, as scientists discovered the presence of a virus associated with hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) in patients of the new sickness.

Philippine Health Secretary Enrique Ona on Monday, July 9, instructed the Bureau of Quarantine to increase scrutiny of international travelers arriving in the country, as a routine precaution against the said “mystery illness. 

Ona gave the instruction to the BoQ after a report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Cambodian health ministry, said they discovered the Enterovirus 71 in samples from patients with the said illness. Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), the DOH said, is associated with the “deadly form” of the HFMD.

Recent laboratory results showed “a significant proportion of the samples tested positive for Enterovirus 71,” which causes a lethal strain of hand, foot and mouth disease, the joint statement said.

“HFMD is an illness affecting mostly children and commonly spreads after direct contact with secretions (such as saliva) coming from patients,” the DOH statement explained.

“Adults seem protected against the disease possibly because of early infection in childhood. Hand washing and strict personal hygiene limits its spread,” the statement added.

“As the cause of HFMD is viral, antibiotics will not be any help in treating it. Presently, there is no specific treatment available for HFMD,” the DOH statement said.

“Parents should seek medical advice if their children develop high fever, vomiting, lethargy and limb weakness,” it added.

More tests needed

At least 52 children aged three months to 11 years have died from the undiagnosed syndrome since mid-April, the WHO and the Cambodian health ministry said.

EV-71 is common in Asia, but Nima Asgari, a public health specialist for the WHO in Cambodia, told Agence France-Presse he believed it had not been seen in this country before.

Asgari said identification of the strain was an important first step but stressed more tests were needed to learn if the deceased children also suffered from other viruses.

“It’s a significant finding,” he said. “It demystifies quite a lot the situation.”

Mystery surrounding the disease — which has symptoms including high fever, followed by rapid deterioration of respiratory functions — and its high fatality rate among young children, has caused concern among Cambodians.

Pediatrician Beat Richner, founder of the country’s charitable Kantha Bopha children hospitals where a majority of the patients were treated, has given a higher death toll of 64 victims, with just two children surviving.

Richner, who was the first to ring the alarm about the disease, said 15 out of 24 patients had tested positive for EV-71, but that this wasn’t the end of the story.

“We have now to see what really is causing the deadly pulmonary complication and see if a toxic factor is playing a role too,” he said in an email to the media on Sunday, July 8.

Cambodia’s Health Minister, Mam Bunheng, said an investigation into the illness was ongoing.

Ona also directed hospitals to remain vigilant for similar cases to increase surveillance against the mystery illness. – With reports from the Agence France-Presse /

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