Time to seek foreign help to identify mysterious disease
by Pham Diem Quynh
News of a "strange disease" in Ba To district, in the central province of Quang Ngai, has gone far beyond Viet Nam's borders.
US ready to track down skin scourge
HCM CITY — The US Embassy yesterday announced it stands ready to support the Vietnamese Government in tackling the mysterious skin disease that has killed several people in Quang Ngai Province.
US Embassy spokesperson Christopher Hodges made the announcement after an official from the Ministry of Health said they would seek help from the World Health Organisation and the US's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in investigating the disease.
"Our sympathy is with those affected in Quang Ngai. We have not yet received a formal request for assistance from the Ministry of Health but stand ready to help in any way we can," Christopher said.
Meanwhile, a delegation headed by Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien and her deputy Nguyen Thanh Long yesterday began a four-day fact finding trip to the province.
Many people have speculated that the disease could have been caused by herbicides or even toxic substances left behind during the American War. — VNS
BBC World on Saturday reported that 19 people, mostly children, had died from an unknown illness, while many others had fallen sick.
Of the 172 people that have died or fallen ill in the district by last Tuesday, 161 were from Ba Dien village. Typical symptoms are stiffness in the limbs and ulcers on the victims' hands and feet that are reminiscent of blisters. Some have also developed a serious liver disorder.
The rate of infection and re-infection has also risen dramatically over the last few weeks, leading to widespread panic, with worried parents keeping their children out of school and isolating themselves from contact with others.
Medical personnel have been advising villagers about hygiene, while they investigate the cause of the illness. Despite their actions, however, the disease has spread beyond the village.
When the illness first appeared a year ago, the ministry sent health experts to the site to collect water and soil samples, as well as blood and hair of the sick. But they could not figure it out.
Two days ago, following tests conducted by Health Ministry officials last week, the director of Quang Ngai Province's health department, Pham Hong Duong, said the rickettsia bacterium had been found in 14 out of 26 blood samples taken from patients. However, the cause of the disease has not yet been identified, Duong added.
The primitive bacterium is carried by ticks, fleas and lice, and can cause diseases such as typhus and rickettsialpox.,
Worried officials at Quang Ngai Department of Health have asked the health ministry to work with the World Health Organisation and other international institutions to investigate the cause of the disease.
The World Health Organisation said they were very concerned about the problem and ready to help Vietnamese government tackling the disease, but they had not yet received any request for help from the health ministry.
Following calls by the People's Committee of Quang Ngai Province, the Military Chemical Institute, under the Ministry of Defence, sent experts to Ba To District to investigate if water supplies and the soil contained toxic substances.
It is clear that we can't eradicate the disease until it is properly identified and named.
The practice of sacrificing buffalos to cure the illness of local Hre people will return if the disease is not quickly identified.
The health ministry should promptly seek international help with identifying the disease and its cause. Saving lives is the crucial thing here. — VNS