Mystery Illness In Cambodia Has Parents Utterly — And Rightfully — Panicked

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A terrifying new mystery illness has reared its ugly head in Cambodia this June leaving parents in a complete panic. Doctors at the Kantha Bopa Children’s hospital in Phnom Penh have been unable to diagnose the disease that has already taken the lives of 64 out of the 66 patients, killing them within 24 hours. The  children affected by the sickness have all been under the age of seven, but mostly in between the ages of two and three.

Because so many mothers come into the hospital with their sick children every day, it has been reportedly difficult for the doctors to distinguish which children have contracted the deadly ailment and which have something that is more treatable like Dengue fever (though also a very dangerous sickness). In testing blood samples from the children, the doctors suspected that the disease could be EV71 or an Enterovirus associated with hand and foot disease. After this first speculation was made, the doctors realized that EV71 spreads much more rapidly than this new disease. Out of the blood samples that were sent to a lab from the infected children only 15 of the 24 samples came back positive for EV71, ruling it out as the cause for the deaths.

The most terrifying part of the infection is the waiting period for the mothers bringing their children to Kantha Bopa. Any signs of illness have mothers in line at the hospital doors with their children, encountering scenes much like this:

 …the head of pediatrics was in the hospital surrounded by children hooked up to intravenous drips. A five-year-old howled with stomach pain, while another child was too lethargic to lift his head. Most of the children were feverish and dehydrated.

Dr. Te Vantha darted from one sick child to another trying to make sure they were getting the treatment they needed. Nurses hurried in and out with syringes and medicines. Meanwhile, mother’s stroked their children’s heads, their faces blank from tiredness or wrinkled in worry.

Though some parents are very concerned about the new disease, some are still completely unaware, bringing their children in for symptoms that they believe to be less threatening. The parents who have yet to learn about the new contamination are unsuspecting because Cambodia is a cesspool of similar diseases such as H1N1. Meanwhile, moms and dads are forced to wait for lung x-rays to determine if the child has something more mild. The uncertainty of such a wait must be excruciating.

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(Photo: Warren Goldswain /