The mysterious skin disease that has killed 23 people in the central province of Quang Ngai over the past year has similarities with a case once recorded in Kenya, Vietnam's health minister said Wednesday.
A Tuoi Tre newspaper report Thursday quoted Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien as saying that in the Kenya case, people contracted the disease because they had eaten molded corn and the death rate among those afflicted was 25 percent.
The disease was controlled after people were given clean food, she said, without giving further details about the case.
Meanwhile, the most important discovery in local scientists' efforts to identify the disease that is plaguing Ba To District, Quang Ngai, was excessive amounts of Aflatoxin a toxin produced by the Aspergillus fungus in samples taken from local rice, the minister said.
The poison, which can damage the liver, leading to liver cancer and cirrhosis, was found to be between five and nine times higher than regulated, she added.
She noted that the latest tests conducted by the Hanoi-based Bach Mai Hospital found that both patients and healthy people in affected areas had high liver enzymes.
According to Tien, the skin condition actually appeared in Ba To in 2003, but not many cases were recorded then.
Earlier a VnExpress quoted Dr. Babatunde Olowokure from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam as saying that the disease has no similarity with any disease or illness that has ever been known in the world.
He warned that it will therefore take more time to find the cause than expected, and that in some cases the cause may not be identifiable.
The Vietnamese health ministry recently asked the WHO together and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention for help in handling the disease, which has so far sickened 239 people.
Local scientists have concluded that the disease, officially known as hoi chung viem da day sung ban tay ban chan (dermatitis and horny layer thickening in foot and hand), was caused by chronic poisoning.
But they have yet to identify the toxin or toxins responsible.
The condition begins with blisters on the hands and feet and loss of appetite, and may turn fatal due to multiple organ failure, starting with the liver.