Encephalitis in Vietnam rises amid vaccine boycott

Thanh Nien News

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Health minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien visits a 2-year-old encephalitis patient at the Central Pediatrics Hospital in Hanoi June 25. Photo credit: VietNamNet Health minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien visits a 2-year-old encephalitis patient at the Central Pediatrics Hospital in Hanoi June 25. Photo credit: VietNamNet


Doctors in the capital city of Hanoi warned parents against neglecting the Japanese encephalitis vaccine after finding that cases surged more than three-fold in the first half of the year.
By June 26, the Central Children's Hospital received 130 patients suffering from cerebral inflammation, roughly the same as last year, though the Japanese encephalitis patients among them rose from 8 percent to nearly 30 percent, or 36 cases, including 11 from Hanoi.
One of the two fatal cases tested positive for the mosquito-borne Japanese Encephalitis virus, doctors told news website VietNamNet.
Dr Tran Minh Dien, deputy director of the hospital, said cerebral inflammation is entering its peak season and the doctor considered the number of cases "normal."
“But the worrisome thing is Japanese encephalitis cases have risen since last year. We need to check if people scared of complications skipped the vaccination,” Dien said.
The sudden surge of measles this year, with thousands of children infected and more than a hundred killed, was partially blamed on a dip in vaccinations.
Parents said a string of infant deaths caused by the 5-in-1  Dutch vaccine Quinvaxem starting in late 2012 prompted them to spare their children from most vaccines. Quinvaxem was suspended last May during an investigation into nine related deaths but was reintroduced in October after being deemed safe, but more deaths followed.
Vietnam introduced the locally-made Japanese encephalitis vaccine in 1993.
The Hanoi hospital has not reviewed vaccination records for recent cerebral inflammation patients but three out of four emergency room cases weren't vaccinated. The families of many other patients said they weren't sure about their relatives' vaccination history.
The virus can cause lifelong neurological defects such as deafness, unstable emotions hemiparesis (one-sided weakness), and can lead to a much higher mortality rate among children than adults.
The disease causes symptoms like fever, headache, neck rigidity, paralysis, convulsions, and even a coma.
There’s no specific treatment, but patients can seek medical assistance to help them eat, breathe and control seizures
Health minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said that after visiting the hospital Wednesday night that she would ask the Preventive Health Department to look into the vaccination for the disease and push it if necessary.
Tien said she would also have health authorities nationwide report on their situation to get a bigger picture of the disease.

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