At least seven babies in the mountainous province of Cao Bang died the past five weeks possibly due to viral encephalitis, raising concerns about an outbreak.
The province’s health department said seven babies under six months died in one district between April 19 and May 25, and 12 others are under treatment with similar symptoms that include fever, cough and respiratory inflammation.
Experts from the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemeology who visited the children suspected that they suffer from viral encephalitis. It is a rare but acute condition that causes inflammation of the brain and usually starts with flu-like symptoms.
The fatalities are very high compared to only three encephalitis deaths reported from all other places in the country this year.
The exact virus and strain in these seven cases have not been identified.
Tran Dac Phu, head of the Preventive Health Department at the health ministry, said the disease peaks between June and August. It is a dangerous one because late treatment can leave severe damage to the nervous system.
People can be infected through insects’ bites, ingestion or inhaling. Children under 15 are more vulnerable.
Vietnam provides vaccination against Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) for children from one year old.
But protection against other encephalitis virus groups such as herpes and enterovirus is not available yet. The latter causes the hand, foot and mouth disease that claims many children lives in Vietnam every year.