The illness causing deaths in over 60 Cambodian children in recent weeks is now suspected to be Enterovirus Type 71, a highly virulent strain of the common childhood illness known as hand, foot and mouth disease.
Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in Cambodia tested dozens of samples from Cambodian children who experienced neurological and respiratory symptoms, and 15 of them tested positive for Enterovirus Type 71.
The disease has reportedly infected over 28,000 children in the Southeast Asian country this year, more than 10 times the number of children infected in the same period last year.
Although most children recover from the disease within a matter of days, some immune systems cannot effectively fight the disease, causing serious complications such as brain swelling, paralysis and even death.
“In some cases it has the predilection to hit the brain stem region, which may explain the complications seen in the Cambodian patients,” Malik Peiris, Chair Professor in Virology at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health (Bloomberg).
The World Health Organization (WHO) is continuing to investigate the outbreak.