Vietnam has recorded an unusually high number of patients diagnosed with measles and the hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) since September, with Ho Chi Minh City and two neighboring provinces of Dong Nai and Binh Duong being most severely affected by the outbreaks.
Statistics showed no noticeable difference in the number of measles and HFMD cases in the first eight months of 2018 compared to the same period of previous years.
However, since the start of September the number of patients admitted to hospitals with these diseases, including very severe cases, has soared at an unusual rate.
Dr. Pham Van Quang, from the Children’s Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, said the hospital admitted 814 patients with HFMD in September alone, a growth of 182 percent year-on-year.
Nationwide, there have been 62,000 cases of HFMD and 3,000 cases of measles recorded in the first nine months of 2018, according to the Preventive Medicine Department under Vietnam’s Ministry of Health.
Among them, 80 percent of HFMD patients, mostly children aged one to three, are located in the Southeastern region, which includes Ho Chi Minh City and five provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Ba Ria–Vung Tau, Binh Phuoc and Tay Ninh.
|A patient with severe hand, foot, and mouth disease relies on a medical ventilator for breathing at the Children’s Hospital 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The same can be said about measles, which is currently most widespread in Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai and Binh Duong, said Dr. Phan Trong Lan, president of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.
These are densely populated areas where residents commute a lot, posing a challenge for health workers to contain the diseases’ spread, according to Dr. Tran Dac Phu, director of the Preventive Medicine Department.
Phu said in the coming time the ministry will work with local health departments in launching measles and rubella vaccination campaigns for children from one to five years of age in high-risk areas in an effort to squash the diseases’ spread.
Health workers, adults with no record or unclear immunization history, people who recently travelled to countries with reported measles outbreaks, and women intending to have a baby in three months’ time are also among groups strongly advised to get vaccinated against these diseases.
As for HFMD, the disease is highly contagious and can be transmitted by secretions such as saliva or nasal mucus, by direct contact, or by fecal-oral transmission.
Seventy percent of HFMD patients do not show any symptom, making the disease easier to be spread across the community by those unaware that they have contracted the virus.
Washing one’s hands frequently can reduce the chances of getting the disease by up to 50 times, according to a study in China.
Overcrowded hospitals with lax isolation of contagious patients also plays a part in the current spreading of measles and HFMD in southern Vietnam, Phu said.
|Patients and family members rest in a hallway at the overcrowded Children’s Hospital 2 in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The health ministry has yet to issue a national warning about the two diseases, saying figures are still below the emergency line.
However, statistics show 21 percent of HFMD patients have contracted the enterovirus 71 (EV71) and 13 percent with coxsackievirus subtypes A6 and A10, which are highly virulent.
As the outbreaks coincide with the start of the school year in Vietnam, experts are worried more children will become infected through contact with their classmates.
A doctor fears this could soon develop into a nationwide epidemic, as the signs are similar to one recorded in 2011, when the country was hit with one of the most serious HFMD outbreaks in years.
|A hand, foot, and mouth patient receives treatment in Quang Ngai Province in central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|