Vietnam has asked for international aid to get to the bottom of a mystery skin infection that has already killed 19 people. More than 170 people in the country's central province of Quang Ngai have reported symptoms reports say.
The outbreak was first reported between April and December 2011 and then subsided, but broke out again last month. The disease begins with a rash on the hands and feet: it can progress to liver problems and multiple organ failure. The infection has mostly affected children and young people. Vietnamese health ministry tests have failed to pinpoint the cause. However, the disease is not transmissible except by contact through cut skin, media reports quoted health officials. Health workers say it responds well to early intervention but is difficult to treat once established.
“This disease is challenging as we have not identified the root causes. If it is just an external skin disease why is it causing deaths and failures inside internal organs?” Deputy Health Minister Thanh Long said on Friday.
Frightened residents of Reu village in an impoverished, mountainous part of Quang Ngai, have laid branches across the path to the houses of infected people to try to isolate the outbreak.
Vietnamese media quoted officials in Quang Ngai as saying that the condition might be caused by chemicals. But the health ministry said it had yet to draw conclusions from its own tests: it hoped to have preliminary results within 10 days. Meanwhile dozens of people are being treated at a leprosy hospital in the neighbouring province of Binh Dinh. Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long has told the Thanh Nien newspaper that officials were taking steps to reduce the mortality rate.
The government has said it will ask the World Health Organization and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to join its investigation.