Children staying for HFMD treatment at the Children’s Hospital No.2 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
While measles persists, Ho Chi Minh city is grappling with a surge in hand foot and mouth disease (HFMD) infections as doctors prepare for a pandemic surge.
The municipal Preventive Health Center said the disease has infected 3,373 children this year, up 28.3 percent year on year, Tuoi Tre reported.
Health officials said it looks like the viral disease is taking a pandemic turn in its regular cycle.
While last year proved mild, officials from the preventive health center say the recent outbreak resembles 2012, when HFMD killed at least 41 out of more than 110,000 patients.
2011 brought 169 fatalities out of roughly the same number of infections.
The virus mainly affects children under five.
Unlike measles which has infected 1,600 children in Ho Chi Minh City this year, no one has developed a vaccine for HFMD yet.
The virus peaks between April - May and September - November, spreading through salivary contact and causing blisters on the victims’ hands and feet and sores in their mouth.
It can result in fatal respiratory decline, meningitis or heart muscle inflammation. Treatment requires the use of respirators and blood dialysis.
Many of the fatalities were caused by EV71, the most virulent strain of the Entovirus and also the most common in Vietnam.
Dr Nguyen Tran Nam, deputy head of the infection department at Children’s Hospital No.2, a leading facility in the city, said most patients became infected in crowded environments like schools and playgrounds.
Nam said the only protection is to practice good hygiene and protect children from crowds.
But Nguyen Thi Thu Phuong, 34, said her 14-month-old son became infected, this year, without being sent to day care.
The boy was admitted to the hospital Monday night after he developed mouth sores and high fever the day earlier.
“He’s been very tired and had a lot of difficulty eating,” Phuong said.
Vo Thi Kieu Trang, 26, who is taking care of her one-year-old nephew at the hospital, said the boy came down with the virus three days after being sent to a local private nursery.
Dr Trinh Huu Tung (also of Children's Hospital No. 2) said patients surged in April with 478 admitted cases--twice the number from March.
He said 194 others have been hospitalized during the first 11 days of May.
“Compared to the same period last year, the number of children coming for examination and hospitalization has jumped a lot.”
Another leading facility in the city, the Children’s Hospital No.1, has admitted more than 2,000 HFMD children this year.
Deputy Director Le Bich Lien said HFMD patients have steadily increased since February.
Dr. Truong Huu Khanh, head of the infectious disease department, said the infections continue to rise and 60-70 children come in for HFMD examinations every day.
A threat of vaccine shortage
Tran Dac Phu, head of the preventive health department at the Health Ministry said many kinds of viral diseases are threatening to surge while vaccines have run out.
Chickenpox cases have doubled over the same period last year; nearly 16,500 and 191 cases of meningitis were also reported, up 9 percent year on year with three fatal cases.
Phu said there is a "severe" shortage of the chickenpox vaccine and not enough vaccines for every kind of meningitis.
He also warned of the risks of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) entering Vietnam due to the country's large labor exports to the Middle East.
The disease was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012, caused by a coronavirus called MERS-CoV.
It has infected 502 people, who exhibited fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30 percent of them died, according to the World Health Organization.
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