Unknown Disease Killing Children Across Cambodia, WHO Says

Victims of a disease that’s killed dozens of children in Cambodia were from more than half the country’s provinces, a World Health Organization official said.

The first 57 patients were from 14 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces, with most coming from the southeastern provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng, said Joy Rivaca Caminade, a technical officer with WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila. The Ministry of Health was first alerted to the cases by Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh, Caminade said in an e-mail today.

Health officials are searching for the cause of the deaths, which may be the result of a combination of different diseases, according to Caminade. Surveillance in the Southeast Asian nation hasn’t picked up anything of this scale in recent years, she said. So far, there is no evidence of clustering of cases that could indicate that it’s spreading from person to person.

The undiagnosed syndrome has been reported in 67 hospital patients since April, 66 of whom have died, said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a WHO spokeswoman, in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh today. It’s unlikely influenza is the cause, she said.

No Autopsies

“No autopsy was done on any of the cases,” said Nima Asgari, the leader of the WHO’s emerging disease surveillance and response team in Cambodia.

Health officials are reviewing hospital records and treatments provided, as well as surveying relatives of patients, to understand the events that occurred from when the children fell ill to their hospitalization. The information is then being matched with laboratory data, he said.

“As you can imagine, this will take time and we are still at the data analysis part,” Asgari said in an e-mail today.

Children admitted to the hospital with symptoms including high fever, breathing difficulty and neurological problems saw their respiratory function worsen quickly, Caminade said yesterday. A review of 57 cases found 46 of them died within 24 hours of admission, with the rest suffering the same fate within three days, she said. The stricken children were aged three months to seven years.

The United Nations health agency is working with Cambodia’s health ministry and has offered support and access to international experts in areas such as epidemiology, she said. The WHO is on standby to provide support for clinical management and supplies of medicines if requested.