Hospitals report 108 kids dead from measles, health ministry guesses fewer

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Two children share a bed at the Central Pediatrics Hospital in Hanoi as they receive emergency care for severe measles complications. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

The Ministry of Health maintained its contested estimate of 25 infant measles deaths, this year, after three Hanoi hospitals announced, Tuesday, that they'd seen 108 and counting.
Tuoi Tre newspaper said the Central Pediatrics Hospital reported 103 deaths among children admitted with measles this year, Bach Mai Hospital reported four and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases one during visits from a delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam.
Those figures don't include children discharged to die at home, and those never admitted to hospitals.
Dam said he organized his visit after a doctor from the Central Pediatrics Hospital wrote about too many measles deaths on a Facebook post.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that the figure released April 10 was more precise.
It said only 25 of the infant cases were directly linked to measles complications, while the others died from a combination of respiratory and cardiological conditions, as well as malnutrition.
Tran Dac Phu, head of the ministry’s Preventive Health Department, said 25 “is reasonable.”
Vice minister of health Nguyen Thanh Long told a conference last week that the measles virus hadn't exhibited any abnormal developments and they hadn't seen any evidence about the virus strengthening or changing its attack methods.
The ministry added that it would only announce outbreaks when it detects changes in the virus.
Phu said in his latest statement that despite a drop in infections during the 2009-2010 period, there have been more deaths and severe cases.
Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the Central Pediatrics Hospital, said they are treating 340 measles patients, including adults, and 50 of them have had to be put on respirators.
Kinh said the the patients have been flooding in since February and many suffer from the typical measles’ complication of cerebral inflammation.
Doctors have blamed parents for not vaccinating their children, but tempered their criticism by noting the fear engendered by the series of child deaths caused by the Dutch five-in-one vaccine starting in late 2012.
The vaccine was suspended last May following nine infant deaths and was reintroduced in October following approval from the World Health Organization recommendation, only to be followed by at least three more deaths.
Vaccinations aside, Kinh said the hardest hit victims of this measles' outbreak are children below the vaccination age of nine months. They are supposed to carry antigens passed on by their mothers.
He said most deaths were caused by severe pneumonia, a typical complication caused by the virus. Some succumbed to a combination of bacterial and viral infections after measles crippled their immune systems, the doctor said.
Tran Quoc Linh from the central province of Ha Tinh said his one-year old has remained under the care of the hospital's infections disease department for two months now, usually sharing a bed with two or three other kids.
Linh said new measles patients have had to be admitted to another department at the hospital.
“I’ve seen a child sent home dead from measles almost every day. When my son was in the emergency room, I sometimes saw two a day."
Doctors have told him his child is recovering and will soon be transferred to a neurologist to treat his cerebral inflammation.
Some children have remained in critical condition due to hospital crowding, he added.
Mua, a mother from Vinh Phuc Province outside Hanoi, said the Central Pediatrics Hospital transferred her child back to the provincial hospital a month ago, saying that the child was recovering and the hospital needed to make space for other patients.
But the child’s condition deteriorated after 11 days at Vinh Phuc Pediatrics Hospital and the family had to bring her back to Hanoi.
“Doctors told me this morning that I have to prepare for the worst,” the teary Mua told Tuoi Tre Wednesday.
Doctors have blamed poor preparation and patient capacity at provincial hospitals for crowding in urban facilities.
Pham Thi Tai, who is staying around the hospital with her daughter and son-in-law, said her 13-month-old grandchild has also gotten worse after two weeks of treatment.
Tai said the baby developed rashes and bruises two days after her fever dissipated.
“My grandchild’s condition is becoming more severe day by day. She can hardly breath even with the respirator. She keeps letting out long whooping coughs and turning black and blue.”
Tai said doctors have told them to prepare for the worst.

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