Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) continues to claim lives in Vietnam in an outbreak that has refused to relent after the Health Ministry declined to officially declare an epidemic on August 20.
Nguyen Van Binh, director of the ministry's Health Preventive Department, said the contagious disease has claimed 88 lives and had sickened more than 38,000 others in 59 of the country's 63 cities and provinces by Wednesday (August 31).
"That means around 2,000 people are infected each week," he said.
Vietnam had recorded 33,000 cases of infection with 83 deaths on August 20, when the Health Ministry announced it would not declare an epidemic. The ministry said the number of infections was declining and there were no more sources for further infection.
Since then, the disease caused by the intestinal viruses Coxsackie A and Enterovirus 71 (EV 71), which commonly infect children, has spread to nine new provinces and one patient has died every two days on average.
EV-71 can result in a more serious form of the common childhood disease leading to paralysis, brain swelling or death. Infection is typically mild and causes mouth sores and blisters on hands and feet. No vaccine or specific treatment exists, but most children typically recover quickly without problems.
Binh said the latest figures may not fully reflect the actual situation because this does not include case of outpatient infection.
Two major children hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, HCMC Children hospitals 1 and 2, are still inundated with patients. Each has been admitting about 100 new HMFD children per day over the past weeks, of which around 70 percent are from nearby provinces.
Deputy Health Minister Trinh Quan Huan admitted that provincial health agencies have shown their ability to detect and report the disease to be "limited."
"Until now, many localities have not reported their infection situation to the ministry as instructed by the Prime Minister," he said.