Fatal skin disease returns to central Vietnam after 3-month hiatus

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Dinh Thi Lo, 57, receives a checkup at Quang Ngai General Hospital. She is one of six new patients with a skin disease that has killed 24 people in the central province of Quang Ngai since 2011

A fatal skin disease believed to have first appeared in Vietnam has recurred in the central province of Quang Ngai, local authorities reported on Sunday.

The mysterious disease has killed 24 of 240 people to become infected with it since first appearing in 2011.

Six people have been admitted to local hospitals in Ba To and Son Ha districts with the disease since the end of last month, after about three months of no reported cases.

The new patients were diagnosed as having the illness that begins with blisters on the hands and feet and the loss of appetite, and can turn fatal due to organ failures, starting with the liver.

It is officially known as the syndrome of dermatitis and horny layer thickening in foot and hand in Vietnam.

Local and foreign experts, including those from the World Health Organization have yet to find the cause of the syndrome that has been mostly recorded in Ba To District, or come up with an effective treatment method. 

Speaking to Thanh Nien, Le Han Phong, chairman of Ba To District People's Committee, said four of the latest patients are from one family in Ba Dien Commune the disease's focal point with 124 cases of infection and 16 deaths from it so far.

The youngest victim was seven years old and the eldest was 75, Phong said. 

Two others are from Son Ha District's Son Ba Commune, where authorities also detected nine cases in which patients had slightly increased liver enzyme levels, one of the symptoms associated with the disease.

All patients suspected of having the disease have been placed under close observation by local health workers.

Dinh Van Nun, head of a Ka Khu Village in Son Ba Commune, said people are "very scared" because they have heard that the disease killed many in Ba To District last year.

In the meantime, the Quang Ngai Center for Preventive Health has sent teams to sterilize the environment, and take samples of the water and soil in Ba To. More health officials have also been sent to the locality to control the situation.

The same measures have been launched in Son Ba.

Since the disease first broke out in April 2011, scientists from various fields have undertaken inspections and conducted tests to find its cause. They have concluded that it is caused by chronic poisoning, but have so far failed to identify the toxin responsible.

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In an interview with the online newspaper VnExpress, Dr. Babatunde Olowokure from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam said the disease is not similar to any disease or illness that has ever been known in the world.

He warned that it will therefore take more time to find the cause than expected, and that in some cases the cause may not be identifiable.

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