The virus is a strain of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) that is widespread in Asia,
but not usually found in Cambodia.
HFMD is a human ailment caused by intestinal viruses, and not to be mistaken for foot-and-mouth disease, which only affects animals. Infected children generally suffer from high fever, rashes, respiratory and sometimes neurological problems.
In 64 of the 66 cases, the children’s health deteriorated much faster than doctors expected. This is one of the reasons why the illness was difficult to identify, as the Enterovirus 71 usually does not lead to such quick deaths.
Paediatrician Beat Richner, founder of Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals, was the first to raise concerns about the illness.
Richner said all the patients who died were treated in private clinics in local areas before being brought to the Kantha Bopha hospitals in the capital and the northwestern province of Siem Reap.
“They all got injections or infusions by private centres before coming to us,” he said. “Some died four hours after arriving.”