ASIA/CAMBODIA - Warning of a hand-foot-mouth disease that mainly affects malnourished children

Phnom Penh (Agenzia Fides) - According to some experts, the high rate of malnutrition in Cambodia has caused the rapid spread of an outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease which, since last April, has killed 54 poor boys and girls. In the country all kindergartens and primary schools have been closed to try to contain the spread of Enterovirus-71 (EV-71) which is supposedly responsible for the outbreak of the disease known as hands-foot and mouth disease (HFMD). and is a viral infection. HFMD affects in particular infants and children and the infection occurs through contact with mucus, saliva or faeces of someone infected. The outbreaks generally occur in Southeast Asia during the rainy season. In Kantha Bopha hospital in the Cambodian capital, the majority of infected children died between April and late June. In several provinces mild forms of the disease have been recorded, and there may be hundreds of cases not detected because of very limited health services in the country. It is impossible to determine the mortality rate for severe form of HFMD. Only recently the government of Cambodia has begun to collaborate with the World Health Organization (WHO) for their monitoring.
Thanks to a joint research of the Cambodian Ministry of Health and WHO, showed that the virus EV-71, one of the known causes of HFMD, was present in most reported cases. Many children died during the first day of hospitalization and prior to contracting the disease they were all malnourished or suffering from other chronic diseases. Malnutrition affects 40% of Cambodian children, making them more vulnerable to infectious diseases. The country has the third highest rate of child malnutrition among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and 28% of children under 5 years of age are underweight or too small for their age. The "hidden hunger", the lack of vitamins or minerals, is another serious problem of the country where half of all children under 5, the most vulnerable to HFMD, are anemic, mainly due to lack of iron. Almost 9 out of 10 are already anemic at one year of age. According to WHO, this year, more than 1.27 million cases of mild and severe HFMD have been recorded in China, with 356 deaths, compared to slightly more than 711,300 cases last year. It also seems that the number of cases in Singapore has gone from 871 to over 26 000 in the first six months of this year. (AP) (Agenzia Fides 26/7/2012)

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