Hand, foot and mouth disease surges in Vietnam | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 16.03.2012
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Hand, foot and mouth disease surges in Vietnam

An ongoing outbreak of a common childhood virus has claimed at least 11 lives and made ill over 12,000 small children in Vietnam this year.

Despite the government's implementation of comprehensive measures to curb the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease, the painful illness that affects mainly children has already killed 11 and affected thousands.

The measures reported by the World Health Organization in fall 2011 include awareness campaigns and the training of health employees and teachers to detect symptoms early and isolate children from their classmates.

In 2011, more than 11,000 people were infected and 166 died - most were children under the age of six. The death toll was 10 times higher than the previous year as a more dangerous strain of the virus became more prevalent. This year, the number of cases is already over seven times higher than in the same period last year.

Chinese children are checked for symptoms

There have also been cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in China

Nguyen Van Bihn, the head of the department of preventative health, told the German news agency dpa that the southern provinces were particularly affected.

Children at high risk

Almost all the victims are children aged under six who are particularly at risk because they have relatively weak immune systems.

The disease, which is caused by the Enterovirus group, which includes Coxsackie-A and EV 71, is transmitted through saliva, blister fluid and feces.

At first, patients experience symptoms such as fever, headaches and joint pain. They might feel sick and tired. After a few days, they usually develop a skin rash and then blisters and sores appear in their mouths and sometimes on their buttocks.

Most patients tend to get better within seven to 10 days but the EV71 virus can on occasion cause severe complications including neurological, cardiovascular and respiratory problems, such as lung hemorrhages and meningitis that can be fatal.

In Germany there have also been some cases of infection by EN71 but fewer than in Southeast Asia.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the causes of the higher infection rate in Vietnam are still unknown but it could be due to a new and more aggressive strand of the virus.

A child is vaccinated

Scientists are working on a vaccine but so far there isn't one for hand, foot and mouth disease

There is no vaccine for hand, foot and mouth disease, nor are there any drugs. The only protection is good hygiene - regular washing of hands - and the avoidance of contact with anyone who has been infected.

Despite the increase of cases, the Vietnamese government has not referred to it as an epidemic.

Author: Rodion Ebbighausen / act
Editor: Sarah Berning

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