Scientists have concluded that the mysterious skin condition that has killed 23 and affected 215 people in Vietnam since last April is caused by chronic poisoning, but they have yet to determine the exact toxin responsible.
At a conference held in the central city of Da Nang on Tuesday, scientists said the disease that has been plaguing Ba To District in the central province of Quang Ngai was caused by some type of environmental contamination, the Vietnamnet news website reported Wednesday.
The condition begins with blisters on the hands and feet and loss of appetite, and may turn fatal due to organ failures, starting with the liver.
Earlier it was believed that the disease was related to local tainted rice and water sources, but even after local agencies cleaned up those areas of contamination, the spread of the disease only increased, the report said.
More than 100 scientists and experts from leading hospitals are rushing to identify the disease, now officially known as hoi chung viem da day sung ban tay ban chan, which translates into English as "the syndrome of dermatitis and horny layer thickening in foot and hand."
In the meantime, Vietnamese health agencies are working to limit the disease's death rate, said Tran Hau Khang, director of the Central Dermatology Hospital.
VnExpress last week quoted Dr. Babatunde Olowokure from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam as saying that the syndrome has no similarity with any disease or illness that has ever been known in the world.
It will therefore take more time to find the cause than expected, and that in some cases the cause will not be identifiable, the foreign expert said.
The Vietnamese health ministry recently asked for help from the WHO together with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in handling the disease, after being criticized by the public for delaying seeking the support of international organizations.