Health officials in Cambodia appear to have made a breakthrough in identifying the cause of a small but deadly outbreak that has resulted in the deaths of more than 60 children over the past 3 months, most between the ages of 2 and 3.
Although the investigation is ongoing, early testing revealed evidence of Enterovirus Type 71 (EV71) in 15 of 24 patient samples examined.
EV71 often causes cold-like symptoms and diarrhea, and is a common cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) in children. Moderately contagious, it is spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva, blisters or feces of an infected person. The typical incubation period is 3-7 days, and symptoms – if present at all — generally last 4-6 days. However, a person is infectious for as long as the virus is present in the faeces, which may last several weeks.
In rare cases, EV71 can lead to severe neurologic disease, such as meningitis, brain stem encephalitis, neurogenic pulmonary edema, and acute ﬂaccid paralysis. The variation in severity of symptoms appears to be related to different genotypes of the virus, and the presence of other viruses.
HFMD is less common in adults, whose well-developed immune systems are able to contain the virus, but those with immune deficiencies are susceptible.
HFMD is not to be confused with foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is a separate disease that affects sheep, cattle, and swine.
Of the 66 children admitted to the Kantha Bopha facilities in the southern part of the country, 64 died after suffering neurological and respiratory complications – most within 24-48 hours of admission.
In addition to suffering from encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain — some of the victims exhibited severe damage to the lungs.
Although there is currently no treatment for EV71, proper hygiene can prevent the spread of the infection. Washing hands using soap and water before eating or drinking, and after using the toilet or touching soiled clothing and linens are recommended.