Keeping an eye on mystery illness

KUALA LUMPUR - The Health Ministry is closely monitoring the situation in Cambodia after a mysterious respiratory disease afflicting children led to 61 deaths.

Its disease control director, Dr Chong Chee Kheong, said to date, there was no advisory of travel restriction to Cambodia from the World Health Organisation.

"There has been no global alert and we believe cases are still localised," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He said the ministry was constantly being updated with information on the illness and the progress in identifying the cause.

Dr Chong also said the ministry would notify the public on advisories from WHO from time to time.

According to WHO's statement at its website, the Cambodian health ministry was conducting active investigation into the cause of the undiagnosed syndrome that caused illness and deaths among young children.

It said the ministry notified WHO of the outbreak which affected 62 children, all but one had died since April this year.

The majority of the identified cases to date were children under 3 years old, who presented common symptoms of fever, respiratory and neurological signs, which were now the focus of the investigation.

Most of the children were from the southern and central parts of the country and received treatment at Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital, which was a reference paediatric hospital.

It was stated that many of the children died within 24 hours of admission and available samples have been tested at the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia.

The samples were found negative for H5N1, other influenza viruses, SARS and Nipah.