The illness initially presents with high fever, appetite loss and a rash on the feet and hands, but left untreated can affect the respiratory system, cause eye problems, miscarriages, liver issues and multi-organ failure. And it has doctors baffled.
The disease found in two communes in Quang Ngai province of Southern Vietnam, was first discovered about a year ago, before subsiding and reemerging. Now within the past year, 171 people have reported disease symptoms and it has claimed the lives of 19 others.
According to the medical and societal journal of vitreo-retinal surgeon, Dr. DeLengocky
, Le Han Phong, chairman of the People's Committee in Ba To district in Quang Ngai province, said that "Nearly 100 people are still hospitalized, including 10 in critical condition." Those with milder symptoms are being treated at home.
When caught early, treatment is highly effective, but people are also being reinfected. So far, 29 patients have contracted the illness more than once, which is believed to be spreading through touch. Alarmed, Vietnam's Ministry of Health has called on the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for assistance.
Although investigations are still underway, Vietnamese health authorities believe that the victims are suffering from poisoning from chemical herbicides. The onset of symptoms appeared to coincide with the use of one brand of herbicide used to spray cassava fields, an American product named Kanup 480 SL. The herbicide was imported by the Viet Thang Company and sold through their catalog in the northern province of Bac Giang.
Health officials are hoping to have preliminary results from testing within 10 days, but Phong told Thanh Nien News
, "The development of the disease at Ba Dien commune is really complicated and critical; the numbers of new cases and recurrence cases are increasing dramatically."
Meanwhile, villagers in the areas affected are running scared. According to BBC News
, Pham Van Tray from Reu village which is located in a remote area of Quang Ngai, said, "We have to block the entrances here to stop patients from getting out and spreading the disease [...and...] since we don't know what caused the disease, we will have to rely on our rituals and prayers."