Dubious herbs confiscated in district plagued by fatal skin disease

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Health officials in central Vietnam have confiscated a large amount of herbs of unclear origins being used by people who live in an area that has been plagued by a mysterious skin condition that killed 23 people so far.

Officials from Quang Ngai Province's Health Department have sent samples of the medicine found in Ba Dien Commune of Ba To District to the Health Ministry for testing.

Locals have been asked to stop using the medicine, which is in the form of a powder, ostensibly of roots, branches and dry leaves. Chinese labels found on the package say the medicine is for treating liver cancer.

The medicine is not in the list of products allowed by Vietnam's Health Ministry.

It's not clear how long the medicine has been used in the commune.

Le Huy, chief of staff of Quang Ngai Health Department, on Saturday said many people have visited the district with medicines after news about the disease broke out.

The disease, which causes thickened skin and blisters on hands and feet, and leads to multiple organ failures, has killed 23 people since April last year. The latest deaths were recorded month.

Huy said the gesture to give free medicines was "meaningful" but it could be "dangerous" as most do not have clear origins or a permit from the Ministry of Health, according to a Nhan Dan report.

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The Ministry early this month has consulted experts from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the disease and its causes.

Military chemicals, a prime suspect in the beginning, is yet to be found in the district. But elevated amounts of arsenic was found in a hair sample of a 9-year-old boy who died in May.

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