Deadly virus forces closure of schools across South East Asia

 

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 20 July 2012 19:38
Comments

Health officials in several countries across South East Asia are on alert over a deadly virus that has killed more 50 young children and which the authorities fear could spread further.

This week, officials in Cambodia closed all its kindergartens and primary schools to try and prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease, caused by the Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), that has killed at least 55 children in the country since April.

On Thursday, Thai officials took similar steps, closing more than 100 primary and secondary schools, a number of them in Bangkok, in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. In Thailand, while there have not yet been any deaths as a result of the disease, up to 14,000 cases of people being infected by a strain of the virus have reportedly been detected.

The disease has killed at least 17 people in China and a number in Vietnam have also died, according to reports. The sharpest focus on the virus has been in Cambodia, where the World Health Organisation says 55 children are known to have died since the spring. Most were younger than three years old and died within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital.

Timothy O’Leary, a regional spokesman for the WHO, based in Manila in the Philippines, said yesterday there was no vaccine against the virus and that his organisation was stressing the need for good hygiene to prevent its spread. He said ensuring people washed their hands, was perhaps the single most useful safeguard.

“The WHO has been working with the ministry of health in Cambodia to identify the cause of what had been an unidentified disease,” he said yesterday. “It’s an infectious disease that spreads from person to person. The best way to stop it is good hygiene.”

Officials in Phnom Penh who took the decision to close schools on Wednesday, a move that will affect many tens of thousands of people, said schools had been due to close for the summer holidays at the end of August but that it was thought best to act immediately. They will remain closed for 10 weeks.

“After receiving report from some provinces about the rapid spread of hand, foot and mouth disease in schools, we don't have to wait two more weeks,” Mak Van, an education minister, told Reuters.

The WHO had warned against closing schools as they feared it would create further panic amid an already jittery public.

Officials in Cambodia had initially been stumped by the illness, which causes fever and respiratory problems, and its high fatality rate. But the WHO said last week most victims tested positive for EV-71, which causes a lethal strain of hand, foot and mouth disease and is fairly common in Asia. The WHO said the use of steroid to treat the condition – something that had been common-place, was actually known to make the situation worse.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in