HCMC treats first skin victim as more infected in central Vietnam

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A child afflicted by the skin condition that has plagued an ethnic minority community in central Vietnam for more than a year was admitted to Ho Chi Minh City's Children's Hosptial No. 1 in critical condition on Saturday.

Doctors at a hospital in Binh Dinh Province had failed to stabilize the deteriorating condition of the 9-year-old patient Pham Van Thach of Ba To District in Quang Ngai Province, north of Binh Dinh. 

Thach was admitted to Children's Hospital 1 suffering from severe liver damage and a blood infection, according to doctors at the city hospital.

Health experts say the condition begins with blisters on hands and feet and can quickly lead to organ failure.

On Tuesday, Doctor Le Bich Lien, deputy director of the hospital, said the cause of the condition remains unknown and physicians are treating the child through a process known as "blood filtering."

Three other members of T.'s family are also suffering from the disease, doctors said.

Health minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien has ordered hospitals to provide free treatment to patients suffering from the condition. Tien asked the hospitals to cover 5 percent of the treatment cost, and leave the rest for government health insurance.

The first cases of the symptoms were reported last April. The condition died out by the beginning of 2012, but flared up again in late March.

After a year of dispatching multiple teams of researchers and epidemiologists to the two afflicted districts, health officials remain baffled as to the cause of the illness, which continues to spread.

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Meanwhile, the World Health Organization maintains that it has not been asked to assist Vietnam's healthcare officials in determining the cause.

Dang Thi Phuong, the medical center director of the plagued Ba To District, said the number of recorded cases rose to 209 this past week from 200 on May 8.

A tally conducted by Tuoi Tre showed that the number of cases closer to 240--including 21 deaths as of May 7.

The figure is only expected to grow, officials say, since blood tests show that over 28 percent of people in the district, which is home to mostly H're ethnic people, are exhibiting abnormally high levels of liver enzymes--which usually precedes the other symptoms.

Health officials had previously suspected that the illness had been brought on by the practice of deliberately eating fungus-covered rice--a traditional food for the tribe. But the fungus has been ruled out as a cause--though health officials have imported clean rice as a better alternative.

Health officials have also issued new sleeping mats to residents of the affected area and incinerated their old bedding.

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