5 May 2008
HANOI (AFP) — A virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease has infected around 400 people in Vietnam this year and led to an unknown number of deaths, a health official in the communist country said Tuesday.
No precise data on cases and fatalities was available because enterovirus 71 or EV71 is not a notifiable disease in Vietnam, said Nguyen Huy Nga, head of the Health Ministry’s Preventive Medicine Department.
The intestinal virus, which hits children hardest because of their weaker immune system, has killed at least 26 children in neighbouring China and infected thousands more, raising fears it could spread across the region.
“Vietnam has had about 2,000 cases of hand, food and mouth disease this year, of which about 20 percent were caused by EV71,” Nga told AFP, saying 90 percent of cases were in southern Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh City.
“There were some deaths involving the virus but we have no specific figure.”
He said “children under 10 are the group most vulnerable to this disease.”
The senior epidemiologist of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Vietnam, Dr Sean Tobin, said there was “no obvious association between the cases in China and those in Vietnam.”
“As this is not a notifiable disease, there is no formal collection of data and no clear picture of the numbers in Vietnam,” he said. “But reports from local health officials suggest that the number and severity of cases this year is higher.”
Tobin said “the disease is recognized as an increasing public health problem” in Vietnam and added that local health authorities had asked the WHO for help “to determine options for monitoring and control.”
EV71, which begins with fever, blisters, mouth ulcers and rashes, is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person.