Health official warns HFMD outbreak might get worse

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The hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has so far claimed 70 lives from among 23,353 infected cases in 49 cities and provinces across the country, according to the latest statistics from the Vietnam Administration of Preventive Medicine .

Nguyen Van Binh, VAPM director general, spoke to Thanh Nien about the development of the disease and measures taken to prevent and treat it.

Is the HFMD a new endemic in Vietnam?

In Vietnam, HFMD cases with serious complications have been reported since 2003. That year, several HFMD-related acute encephalitis cases were recorded in Ho Chi Minh City.

In the following years, the number of HFMD cases has kept increasing, with more than 10,000 cases reported in 2008, prompting the Ministry of Health to issue guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Between 2008 and 2010, Vietnam recorded an estimated 10,000-15,000 HFMD cases, including 20-30 fatalities each year. The Health Ministry has included HFMD in the list of endemics that must be reported on weekly.

This year, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of  HFMD cases with up to 2,300 cases reported in a peak week. The number has decreased over the last few weeks to around 1,800-1,900 cases per week.

What are the reasons for the dramatic increase? And why does the disease mostly hit southern region?

We need much more time and research to find out the reasons for the increase. We are still receiving continuous updates from the World Health Organization on the disease and we have been told that the HFMD has hit several countries hard and no specific reasons have been found.

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We have been warned that the climate in tropical countries, especially during rainy seasons, is convenient for the HFMD virus to spread.  

Since there is no specific treatment for the disease, the advice is that pregnant women and children should be taken to medical clinics as soon as they show symptoms of the HFMD.

In the southern region, the climate may be more convenient for the HFMD viruses to spread. But I want to remind you that every locality must be active in preventing the disease because the HFMD can spread widely in an unsanitary environment.

The new guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of HFMD, issued by the Health Ministry on July 19 only focus on child patients, while there are some sources saying the disease have recently attacked adults, killing a 21-year-old patient in An Giang Province. Is it abnormal to have senior HFMD patients?

Reports say most HMFD cases and fatalities are children. So far, 96 percent of fatalities have been of children aged below five. That's why the new guidelines only focus on child patients.

HFMD adult cases, in fact, have been reported before, but very few. As of July 28, we have not received official report of any HFMD adult fatality.

If there are any, more warnings about the disease will be issued to the public.

Do you have any predictions on the disease's development in the coming months?

Reports from previous years show that the disease usually peaks between September and November. The new school year is coming, which means the disease could spread widely. The Health Ministry is working with the Ministry of Education and Training to take more preventive measures. We're concerned over the rising fatalities over the last few weeks.

Do you think the measures taken to cope have not been effective enough?

So far, 20 cities and provinces in the southern region and the central provinces of Ninh Thuan, Khanh Hoa and Quang Ngai have implemented programs to prevent the HFMD in the second half of this year.

HCMC has sent six teams to 24 districts to provide advisory and logistical support for the prevention and treatment of HFMD.

The Health Ministry has established 11 working groups to supervise prevention and treatment across the country.

There are opinions that the viruses causing the HFMD have mutated. Has the Health Ministry conducted any research on this yet?

Until now, the viruses which cause the HFMD are known ones (Enterovirus 71 and Coxsackie A).

The Pasteur Institute and other epidemic prevention centers are taking the samples of severe HFMD to test for any mutation, So far, they have yet to detect any.

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